Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

John Collier with Blackfoot tribal leaders in Rapid City, SD.
John Collier with Blackfoot tribal leaders in Rapid City, SD.
Author unknown
March 2, 2017

IN HISTORY: U.S. Indian Affairs Commissioner Visits Rapid City

During the first week of March 1934, U.S. Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier met with delegations from 18 tribes in Rapid City to solicit feedback concerning the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. An account of the conference published in the San Bernadino Daily Sun noted that Collier’s visit marked the first time “an administration, controlling both Houses of Congress, has come among you to seek your advice.”

John Collier served as U.S. Indian Affairs Commissioner from 1933 until 1945. An advocate for American Indian culture, Collier sought to undo the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 in order to bring an end to the parceling of tribal lands. The Indian Reorganization Act not only brought an end to the allotment policy, but also provided a mechanism for tribal self-governance. During his meeting with tribal delegates, Collier conveyed that the legislation and constitutional form of governance was not mandatory, and that tribes had the option of opting out.

Ultimately, 181 tribes accepted the terms of the IRA and adopted constitutional forms of governance. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate located in northeastern South Dakota was among 77 tribes that opted out of the IRA.  

The Indian Reorganization Act—also referred to as the Indian New Deal—was part of a flurry of legislation aimed at improving the lives of American Indians was passed into law in the 1930s. Passage of the Johnson O’Malley Act of April 16, 1934,which subsidized education, medical and other services for Native Americans preceded passage of  the IRA in April 1934. Legislation concerning American Indian farmland irrigation, timber, and determination of heirs also passed into law in the early 1930s. 

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