American Atlantis

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Attempt to Reshape the Relationship Between Native Americans and the Federal Government During the Great Depression and World War II


  • Joshua Losapio Boston College Alumnus


New Deal, Indigenous History, American History, 1930s, Liberalism, Race in America, American Indians, Native Americans, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Great Depression


This paper uses primary and secondary sources to analyze U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies toward America's indigenous tribes, otherwise known as the "Indian New Deal." Roosevelt sought to undo the injustices carried out against American Indians by the implementation of the Cleveland-era Dawes Act, which deprived indigenous tribes of ninety million acres of land from 1887 to 1934. His Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, John Collier, oversaw public works projects that provided jobs to American Indians in the depths of the Great Depression while the Wheeler-Howard Act helped restore tribal sovereignty and return land to indigenous tribes. Yet Collier oversaw a disastrous livestock reduction program and ferociously clashed with the Navajo tribe, leading to a decade-long campaign for his ouster. Despite Roosevelt's best intentions, the Indian New Deal produced imperfect results. Although it elevated quality of life for American Indians while strengthening their level of economic and political independence, the Indian New Deal also caused damage to the very communities which it was designed to help.