The history of the U.S. Government’s relationship with the indigenous peoples of North America has long been fraught with much difficulty and tragedy. There are many things we all wish had been done differently, or not at all.
Yet in the face of that legacy President Calvin Coolidge stepped forward with a gesture of reconciliation to amend the hurt feelings of history. On June 2, 1924 Coolidge signed his name to the Indian Citizenship Act. This law very succinctly declared that “all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States.”
Native Americans had demonstrated their loyalty to the United States through their service in the First World War. They contributed in integrated units, traversing the continent in defense of America’s cause. As Indian citizenship proponent Dr. Joseph Dixon wrote at the time “…The Indian who has suffered a thousand wrongs considered the white man’s burden and from mountains, plains and divides, the Indian threw himself into the struggle to help throttle the unthinkable tyranny of the Hun…Now, shall we not redeem ourselves by redeeming all the tribes?”
Coolidge made other attempts to smooth over the U.S. Government’s relationship with the Native peoples. He lamented the grinding poverty which afflicted most tribes, and readily posed with four Osage tribal leaders in a photograph taken right after the signing of the law. In 1923 he met with a prominent committee dealing with Native affairs, and a legation from the Rosebud Reservation visited him at the White House in 1925. In 1927 he was formally thanked by the Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, which made him an honorary tribal member with the Indian name “Chief Leading Eagle.”
President Coolidge understood the importance of embracing all Americans as part of our national fabric. His accomplishments continue to inspire Americans today.