Indian Reorganization Act

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of June 18, 1934, or the Wheeler–Howard Act, was U.S. federal legislation that dealt with the status of American Indians in the United States. It was the centerpiece of what has been often called the "Indian New Deal". The major goal was to reverse the traditional goal of cultural assimilation of Native Americans into American society and to strengthen, encourage and perpetuate the tribes and their historic Native American cultures in the United States.

Indian Reorganization Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Indian New Deal
  • Indian Reorganization Act of 1934
Long titleAn Act to conserve and develop Indian lands and resources; to extend to Indians the right to form business and, other organizations; to establish a credit system for Indians; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; to provide for vocational education for Indians; and for other purposes.
NicknamesWheeler–Howard Act
Enacted bythe 73rd United States Congress
EffectiveJune 18, 1934
Public lawPub. L. 73–383
Statutes at Large48 Stat. 984
Titles amended25 U.S.C.: Indians
U.S.C. sections created25 U.S.C. ch. 14, subch. V § 461 et seq.
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 3645 by Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT) on May 22, 1934
  • Passed the Senate on June 12, 1934 (passed)
  • Passed the House on June 15, 1934 (284-101)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on June 15, 1934; agreed to by the Senate on June 16, 1934 (agreed) and by the House on June 16, 1934 (agreed)
  • Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 18, 1934

The Act also restored to Indians the management of their assets—land and mineral rights—and included provisions intended to create a sound economic foundation for the residents of Indian reservations. The law did not apply to the territories[citation needed]—including what would become the state of Hawaii, and the state of Alaska—nor did they apply to the state of Oklahoma,[citation needed] which until the McGirt case was regarded as having dissolved its reservations. In 1936 however, the rights of the Indigenous people of Alaska and Oklahoma were recognized under a subsequent law.[citation needed] The census counted 332,000 Indians in 1930 and 334,000 in 1940, including those on and off reservations.[citation needed] Total U.S. spending on Indians averaged $38 million a year in the late 1920s, dropping to an all time low of $23 million in 1933, and reaching $38 million in 1940.[1]

The IRA was the most significant initiative of John Collier, who was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) from 1933 to 1945. He had long studied Indian issues and worked for change since the 1920s, particularly with the American Indian Defense Association. He intended to reverse the assimilationist policies that had resulted in considerable damage to American Indian cultures, and to provide a means for American Indians to re-establish sovereignty and self-government, to reduce the losses of reservation lands, and to build economic self-sufficiency. He believed that Indian traditional culture was superior to that of modern America, and thought it worthy of emulation. His proposals were considered highly controversial, as numerous powerful interests had profited from the sale and management of Native lands. Congress revised Collier's proposals and preserved oversight of tribes and reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of Interior.

The self-government provisions would automatically go into effect for a tribe unless a clear majority of the eligible Indians voted it down. When approved, a tribe would adopt a variation of the model constitution drafted by BIA lawyers.

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