President’s Day: Supporting Native American Communities through Action

Yesterday, America celebrated its founding fathers and the leaders who’ve followed as part of the national President’s Day holiday (celebrated the third Monday in February). While not all presidents have advocated publicly for Native American communities, there are those who have championed tribes and supported policies to ensure fair treatment. Support comes in many forms, whether it be funding, resources, land, or sometimes solidarity when there is an understanding and rally around an issue or need for change. We summarized a few notable presidential acts that have represented positive support for Native communities.

President Calvin Coolidge

President Calvin Coolidge

In 1924, President Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, granting U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans and giving them a political voice and eliminating fraudulent land purchases. This act essentially undid the effects of the Dawes Act of 1887, which allowed for large tracts of land to be taken from Native Americans. (This is unrelated to any changes in tribal lands arising out of treaties between tribes and the U.S. government.)

President Richard Nixon

In 1970, President Nixon returned the sacred lands of the Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo, which had been taken from the Taos Pueblo tribe and given to the National Forest Service in the early 1900’s. President Nixon also increased annual funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs by 214 percent and urged Congress toward self-determination for tribes. In 1975, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was signed into law by his successor, President Gerald Ford. While this act was not passed until after his presidency, Nixon’s efforts showed that a president could make impactful decisions for Native communities.

President Ronald Reagan

In 1988, President Reagan signed into law the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which regulated the conduct of gaming on Indian lands and afforded numerous tribal communities healthier economies, employment opportunities and the ability to assist other tribes and neighboring communities.

President Barack Obama

In 2013, President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, as well as the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. These laws amended the previously signed Stafford Act, which allowed tribes (as sovereign nations) to be treated as states and request a disaster declaration directly from the President. In the event of an emergency disaster, the act allows FEMA to provide up to 25 percent (or $10 million) of estimated costs for eligible hazard mitigation to a state or tribal nation.

Currently, there are 145 bills in deliberation by the 116th Congress that are associated with Native American rights and advocacy. Arguments could be made for whether past presidents have supported Native American rights and whether these individuals had a direct hand in legislation or simply provided their opinions to support us through advocacy. However, what we do know is that we have many opportunities to take advantage of the efforts made before us and further support our Native communities in the future.

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