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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


A mid-twentieth-century U.S. government policy toward American Indians, termination of Indian tribes was enacted to facilitate the long-standing goals of assimilation and self-determination and government programs supporting tribes. Termination emerged full force during the post–John Collier (commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1933–45), post–New Deal era of the 1950s and 1960s. Among the long-envisioned essential tenets of termination was closing tribal rolls, then liquidating and distributing tribal assets by single per capita payments to each tribe's current membership. Of paramount importance was the termination of all federal supervision of Indians and ending protected trust status of all Indian-owned lands. Introduced in 1953 by Utah Sen. Arthur Watkins, House Concurrent Resolution 108 was supported, for the most part, by conservative bureaucrats and politicians. From the measure's passage until its ultimate renunciation by Pres. Richard M. Nixon in 1970, Congress initiated sixty separate termination proceedings impacting numerous Indian tribes, including the Ottawa, Peoria, and Wyandotte tribes of Oklahoma; ultimately, more than three million acres of tribal lands were relinquished nationwide as a result of termination.

An adjunct policy of termination was the relocation of Indians from their rural reservations and allotted lands to metropolitan centers like Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Seattle, and Tulsa. Like termination, relocation efforts and incentives were operational prior to 1953 in legislative sessions, through Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps programs and war-related employment. As a consequence, Indians living in Oklahoma and elsewhere voluntarily migrated to urban centers in the 1940s and 1950s. Many prospered. (As a child, former Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller relocated with her family from Oklahoma to California.) However, while some Indian families did adjust to their new urban settings, the net effect of relocation for many American Indians manifested as loss of access to traditional cultural supports, economic hardship, social disenfranchisement, overt discrimination, and unemployment. Despite the overly positive declarations made by its supporters, in reality, termination and relocation policy wrought social havoc for Indians generally, and explicit, negative consequences for terminated tribes.

E. Jethro Gaede


Donald L. Fixico, Termination and Re-location: Federal Indian Policy, 1945–1960 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986).

Peter Nabokov, ed., Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492–1992 (New York: Viking, 1991).

Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, 2 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

Frederick J. Stefon, "The Irony of Termination: 1943–1958," The Indian Historian 11 (1978).

S. Lyman Tyler, A History of Indian Policy (Washington: Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1973).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
E. Jethro Gaede, “Termination and Relocation Programs,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TE014.

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