The 1920s: John Collier leads reform

The assimilation policy of education and allotment of reservations was forcing Indian people toward a disaster. By the end of World War I they were suffering from short life expectancy, disease, malnutrition, a diminishing land base and a stagnant, unrealistic school system.

Reform was triggered by the efforts of John Collier, the Executive Secretary for the American Indian Defense Association. Publishing his own bulletin, American Indian Life, Collier launched a publicity crusade contrasting the extent of Indian poverty with the general prosperity of the 1920s. Response led to the report of the Committee of One Hundred. While the report failed to effect overall Bureau policy, it made reformers aware they still had much left to do.

The most significant reform work of the early 1900s came from the Meriam Report in 1926. Its recommendations included:
  • Do away with "The Uniform Course of Study," which stressed only the cultural values of whites.
  • Only older children should attend the non-reservation boarding schools.
  • Younger children should attend a community school near home.
  • The Indian Service must provide youth and parents with tools to adapt to both the white and Indian world.
Charles Rhoades was the first Indian commissioner to attempt to put the recommendations of the Meriam Report into practice in 1929. Many accomplishments took place during the last years of the 20s and early 30s, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration brought still more changes.

In 1933, Roosevelt appointed John Collier as commissioner of Indian affairs, where he served for 12 years. During this period federal policies underwent sweeping and lasting changes. Collier crafted what became the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, legislation which marked the end of an era. Assimilation was no longer the goal of policy.