Conference on Native American Self-Determination from the Nixon Presidency to the Present Time

Event Details

Date: May 23, 2012

Time: 10:30 am to 03:00 pm

Location: Gilcrease Museum


Contact: Gilcrease Museum 918-596-2700


The National Archives, Nixon Foundation, and Gilcrease Museum to Co-Present Conference on Native American Self-Determination from the Nixon Presidency to the Present Time

Nixon era and current government officials, contemporary scholars, and leaders from the Native American Community to discuss how the 37th President worked to reverse two centuries of mistreatment.

10:30 a.m. – Noon: Renunciation of Termination, Self Determination, and the Trust Relationship. A Nixon Legacy Forum on Native American policy and practice in the Nixon era, featuring former White House and administration officials.

  • Kent Frizzell – Former Solicitor and Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.
  • Wallace H. Johnson – Former Assistant Attorney General for Land and Natural Resources of the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Bobbie Kilberg – Former White House Domestic Council official working on Native American issues.
  • Bradley H. Patterson – Former Executive Assistant to Len Garment, Special Consultant to the President.
  • Reid Peyton Chambers (moderator for both panels) – Former Associate Solicitor for Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of Interior.

1:00 p.m.3:00 p.m.: How Far Have We Come? Government Policy and Native Sovereignty. A presentation by current government officials, contemporary scholars, and Native American leaders on the long term impact of President Nixon’s Native American policy with introduction by Walter Echo-Hawk, University of Tulsa Law School.

  • Prof. Robert Anderson – Native American Law Center, University of Washington and Harvard Law Professor.
  • Prof. Philip S. “Sam” Deloria – American Indian Graduate Center, University of New Mexico.
  • Ms. LaDonna Harris – Founder and President of Americans for Indian Opportunity.
  • Hilary C. Tompkins – Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior.


Nixon administration veterans, Native American leaders, contemporary scholars, and current policy makers will discuss how President Nixon took steps to encourage and support Native American self determination and reverse nearly two centuries of mistreatment of Native Americans under U.S. law, thus shaping a future of self-determination and economic sustainability.

“The first Americans – the Indians – are the most deprived and most isolated minority group in the nation,” the 37th President said in a July 8, 1970 special message to Congress. “On virtually every scale of measurement – employment, income, education, health – the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom.”

The President’s message represented a clear break from a history of broken treaties and misguided policies of previous administrations including forced isolation, forced assimilation, the appropriation of lands, the removal of tribal authority, and ultimately the termination of the trustee relationship between the Federal government and the Native Americans.

The policy of termination had been detrimental and disorienting to native populations, who oscillated between fear that the Federal government would cut them off, and what the President called the opposite extreme of excessive dependence on agencies run by outsiders.

“Only by rejecting both of these extremes can achieve a policy which truly serves the best interest of the Indian people,” President Nixon said. “Self determination among the Indian people can and must be encouraged without the threat of eventual termination.”

His vision would become groundbreaking, leading to such far reaching results as the restoration of sacred lands; local autonomy and administration over Federal funds; more Native Americans in high level positions at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Interior where they could help administer their own programs; and substantial increases in Federal assistance for health care, education, and economic development. 40 years later, most of these policies still remain in effect.

Featured topics at the Nixon Legacy Forum will include:

  • The July 1970 Message to Congress on Indian Affairs and its implementation during the Nixon administration.
  • The 1974 Indian Finance Act, which allocated money and resources for economic development and small businesses.
  • The 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act which effectively ended the U.S. governments policy of assimilation and termination.
  • The trust relationship between the U.S. government and Native American tribes, which President Nixon’s Message reaffirmed.
  • The return of the sacred Blue Lake and surrounding lands (New Mexico) to the Taos Pueblo Indians in December 1970.
  • The Alaska Claims Settlement Act of 1971 that returned 40 million acres and gave $1 billion to aboriginal Alaskans.
  • Key issues influencing Indian activities, and actions taken by the White House in response.