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Oregon American Indian History




Termination: An Oregon Experience

During the 1950s, the United States government implemented a plan designed to end the federal trustee relationship with Indian Tribes. The stated goal of this plan was to assimilate Indians into mainstream white America. However, the real goal of this plan was to remove millions of acres of prime old-growth timber out of the hands of Tribes and into the hands of the timber industry. Even though the tone of the termination legislation was emancipation of Indians, the net effect was the devastation of tribal culture, political basis, and economic opportunities.

The Tribes of Oregon were hardest hit by the Termination Acts. Of the 109 Tribes terminated in the United States, 62 were from Oregon. Additionally, 98% of all individual Indians losing their federal status were from Oregon. All Tribes terminated in Oregon were situated on the West side of the Coast Range; those tribes with the large timber holdings.

Land holdings drove the process
It should be noted and understood that natural resources were the actual target of the policy. It it not without irony that the Secretary of Interior at the time, Douglas McKay, was a former governor of Oregon with alliances to the industries of the state. McKay ignored the criteria of ranking for termination and rushed forward to terminate the Tribes of Western Oregon, even though these Tribes ranked low on the guidelines for termination timetable. Additionally, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at this time, Dillon S. Myer, had been the director of the War Relocation Authority during World War II. Myer headed the program directly responsible for putting 100,000 Japanese-Americans into prison camps. Through the eyes of history, it is now valid to question Dillon Myer's philosophy toward minorities—especially those who had large land holdings that were desired by the dominant culture.

By 1960 many of the lands that had been held in Tribal ownership for thousands of years now passed into the hands of non-Indians. Many Indian people did not understand the meaning of termination and others simply could not pay the taxes on land they now held fee-simple. For many, termination was a nightmare and a tragedy. They could not secure work and now had no land upon which to live or grow food.

Termination ravaged the Tribes of Western Oregon and has been likened to post traumatic stress syndrome. More Indians were terminated in Oregon than any other state and most terminated Tribes came from Oregon. Even though 62 Tribes were terminated nearly 50 years ago, only 6 Tribes have been restored to Federal Status. Oregon continues to lead the nation in the number of terminated Tribes not yet restored and the number of terminated individuals who are not allowed access to acknowledgment or services.

Indians of Western Oregon, This Land Was Theirs, S.D. Beckham