Title

"My dear white sisters...I want my agency moved back": Female moral authority in the service of reservation reform, 1920s-1930s

Presenter Information

Talea Anderson

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC 271

Start Date

16-5-2013

End Date

16-5-2013

Abstract

From the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, the United States government shifted its policies regarding Native Americans, moving from assimilationism to recognition of tribal sovereignty. In the 1920s-1930s, a new generation of white reformers helped secure these changes by criticizing assimilationist policies initiated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Although nominally more culturally sensitive, these twentieth-century reformers have been accused of forcing their agendas onto Native-American communities without regard for their perspectives. This paper complicates such assumptions by demonstrating how Yakama Indians shaped reform efforts in central Washington state. In the 1920s, Yakama Indians turned to local women’s clubs for support in their protests against policies of the Yakama Indian Agency. They won the women’s support by appealing to their sense of moral authority in society. As a result, the two groups worked together to oppose particular policies of the BIA. Drawing on this history of cooperative protest, this paper contends that BIA officials and white male reformers cannot be credited with the totality of Indian policy reform. Rather, Native Americans and women—-groups frequently overlooked in histories on this subject—-played an important role in guiding local and national policy changes.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Daniel Herman

Additional Mentoring Department

History

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"My dear white sisters...I want my agency moved back": Female moral authority in the service of reservation reform, 1920s-1930s

SURC 271

From the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, the United States government shifted its policies regarding Native Americans, moving from assimilationism to recognition of tribal sovereignty. In the 1920s-1930s, a new generation of white reformers helped secure these changes by criticizing assimilationist policies initiated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Although nominally more culturally sensitive, these twentieth-century reformers have been accused of forcing their agendas onto Native-American communities without regard for their perspectives. This paper complicates such assumptions by demonstrating how Yakama Indians shaped reform efforts in central Washington state. In the 1920s, Yakama Indians turned to local women’s clubs for support in their protests against policies of the Yakama Indian Agency. They won the women’s support by appealing to their sense of moral authority in society. As a result, the two groups worked together to oppose particular policies of the BIA. Drawing on this history of cooperative protest, this paper contends that BIA officials and white male reformers cannot be credited with the totality of Indian policy reform. Rather, Native Americans and women—-groups frequently overlooked in histories on this subject—-played an important role in guiding local and national policy changes.