The Indian Reorganization Act was brought to the 1934 Senate by Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT) and ultimately passed into law on June 18, 1934 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, or The Indian New Deal, the IRA was a significant contribution by Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioner John Collier to combat decades of Native American assimilation into the fabric of early century American society. The long title laid out plainly what the Act sought to achieve:

“An Act to conserve and develop Indian lands and resources; to extend to Indians the right to form business and, other organizations; to establish a credit system for Indians; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; to provide for vocational education for Indians; and for other purposes.” 25 U.S.C.A. § 465

The IRA laid the foundations for American reparations towards the indigenous tribes which had been all but wiped out in the prior century of war and genocide. The act provided economic solvency via a system of credit, granted back native sovereignty by declaring State laws not to apply within borders of “Indian Country”, and furthermore restored Native American Tribe ownership of the land and mineral rights within their territories.

Perhaps most importantly, the IRA provided that “The Secretary of the Interior may take land into Trust for Indian tribes for purpose of providing land for Indians, without consent of the state.”3 Between the years of 1887 and 1934 the Federal US Government had seized nearly two-thirds of all Native American tribal land without compensation.2 While it started slowly, the IRA and its land trust process gradually allowed for systemic reclamation of tribal land by Native American tribes and led, eventually, to off-reservation cash flows with 1988’s Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

1 - Wikipedia "Indian Reorganization Act accessed 7/18/2019
2 - NCSL "Trust Land Overview" accessed 7/18/2019
3 - NCSL "Land Trust Project" accessed 7/18/2019


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