Conditions in Wisconsin Indian communities in 1929

Survey of Conditions of the Indians in the U.S. (1929)


After 40 years of failed Indian policy, the U.S. Senate called these hearings to see what could be done to improve matters. Under the Dawes Act (or General Allotment Act) of 1887, tribal lands previously held in common by Indian nations had been split up into small parcels for individual owners. The government had said this was because it wanted to encourage self-sufficient farming, but under the Dawes Act some parcels could be sold to non-Indians and Native American owners could lose their land if they became too poor to pay taxes or debts.

Forty years later the Secretary of the Interior ordered an investigation into the consequences of the Dawes Act, and in 1928 its160-page "Merriam Report" declared that allotment had been a disaster for Native American communities. Non-Indians had acquired almost half of all Indian lands in the U.S., and poverty, disease, and anger had all skyrocketed on reservations.

In 1928 the Senate ordered the new hearings excerpted here, in order to figure out how to fix the situation. The hearings ultimately lasted for 15 years, filled 41 volumes, and totaled more than 20,000 pages. We present here only pages 1877-2179 of part 5, the testimony collected in Wisconsin in July of 1929. Indian and white informants appeared before the committee in Madison, Lac du Flambeau, and Hayward to discuss their lives; also included is testimony from Winnebago, Nebraska, where many Wisconsin Ho-Chunk people had close ties.

In these 250 pages, Ojibwe, Menominee, Oneida, Ho-Chunk, and Potawatomi people from around Wisconsin describe in their own words living conditions, medical facilities, treaty rights, boarding schools, illegal logging, settling of claims, and a host of other issues. The Senator La Follette mentioned is Robert M. La Follette jr. (1895 - 1953), not his more famous father. On pages 1875-76 is a list of the people who testified, but there is no other index; use the box at the upper left of any screen to search the full text for keywords such as surnames.

Five years after this testimony, the U.S. government overhauled its Indian policy with the Wheeler-Howard Act (Indian Reorganization Act of 1934). Though far from perfect, and hampered in its application by the nationwide economic depression, it was the government's attempt to reform the worst outrages and improve the most dramatic hardships described in these hearings.




Related Topics: Wisconsin's Response to 20th-century change
Indians in the 20th Century
Creator: United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Indian Affairs.
Pub Data: Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1929-1930. The entire survey occupies 41 volumes published 1929-1944; digitized here are only pages 1877-2179 in part 5, concerning Wisconsin, from the original volume bearing WHS Library call number Y 4.In 2/2: In 2/3/: 4-8.
Citation: United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Indian Affairs. Survey of Conditions of the Indians in the United States: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Indian Affairs, part 5, pages 1877-2179 (Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1929-1930); Online facsimile at:  http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1623; Visited on: 10/2/2014
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