Clements Center Monthly Talks

Douglas Miller

“‘These People Come and Go Whenever They Please’: Negotiating Relocation in Postwar Native America”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015  |  Simmons Hall, 3101 University Boulevard   |  12:30 to 1:30 pm



In the aftermath of World War II, United States federal policymakers refocused their attention on solving their enduring “Indian problem”—this time agreeing to “emancipate” American Indians from a supposedly ruinous reservation existence. In 1952, a major component of their plan arrived in the form of the Voluntary Relocation Program, which promised to transfer Indians from a state of reservation impoverishment to urban American abundance. Meanwhile, Native people did not sit idly by, waiting for instructions on how to best pursue opportunities in postwar America’s apparently robust new socio-economic landscape. Instead, they proved intent on dictating the terms and goals of movement in, around, and away from rural Indian Country. Indeed, Native people’s determination to decide their own fate initially frustrated Indian Bureau efforts at launching its urban relocation program.

Rather than passively fall victim to what often amounted to a catastrophic program, Native people through their own initiative and resolve impacted relocation’s outcome in profound and unexpected ways. In their collective refusal to be starved and stereotyped into reservation corners, they adapted to changing historical currents while nurturing an uplift impulse that stretched back to the reservation period, when the United States federal government seemingly finished a long project of cordoning Indians off from society at large. Employing extensive archival research, including interviews and handwritten letters, this noon talk will ultimately strive to position American Indians as ambitious people who resisted restrictions on how and where they could belong in the wider world.

Douglas Miller is the Bill & Rita Clements Research Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America, and received his PhD in history from the University of Oklahoma in 2014.  He is spending the academic year at the Clements Center revising for publication his book manuscript “Reservation Limits: American Indian Urbanization and Uplift in the Twentieth Century.”

Image courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago IL.