|The American Presidency Project|
|• John F. Kennedy|
|Letter on Indian Affairs from Senator John F. Kennedy to Mr. Oliver La Farge, President, Association of American Indian Affairs|
|October 28, 1960|
DEAR MR. LA FARGE: I have received a number of inquiries from readers of the publication, Indian Affairs, concerning my position on Federal policies toward American Indians. As my staff has informed your office, I am pleased to set forth my views, as heretofore expressed in the Democratic platform, and in public statements by me.
At the outset, let me say that I wholeheartedly support the Democratic platform pledge to American Indians. To me, this pledge, as any other pledge, is not hackneyed political phraseology. It is a specific promise of a positive program to improve the life of a neglected and disadvantaged group of our population.
As stated in the platform, my administration would see to it that the Government of the United States discharges its moral obligation to our first Americans by inaugurating a comprehensive program for the improvement of their health, education, and economic well-being. There would be no change in treaty or contractual relationships without the consent of the tribes concerned. No steps would be taken by the Federal Government to impair the cultural heritage of any group. There would be protection of the Indian land base, credit assistance, and encouragement of tribal planning for economic development.
The program which my administration will support will not write Indian reservations and their population off as not worthy of any help, as has been the case under the present Republican administration. We pledge ourselves vigorously to a program of development of Indian communities, as suggested in the Indian point 4 program. Specifically, we would-
(1) enact an area redevelopment bill which would offer substantial Federal help for the development of industry in depressed areas, including Indian reservations. Such legislation has been passed by the Democratic Congress, only to vetoed by a Republican President. Area redevelopment legislation would at last provide jobs for Indians, in contrast to the empty economic development promises which Indians have for years been hearing from Republican spokesmen, but which have not been accompanied by action.My administration, as you can see, would make a sharp break with the policies of the Republican Party. I am sure Indians know that in 1953 and 1954 a Republican administration and a Republican Congress joined in what became known as a termination program. That headlong drive to break faith with our first Americans was fortunately slowed down when the Democratic Party regained control of Congress in 1955. Since then, the Congress has been a protective shield for Indians against bureaucratic attacks.
As this election approached, the Republican administration changed its tune. Recently we have seen some very fine policy pronouncements from the Secretary of the Interior. But the Secretary's words have time and again been belied by the actions of the leadership of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indians have heard fine words and promises long enough. They are right in asking for deed.
The program to which my party has pledged itself will be a program of deeds, not merely of words. We will not rest after fine policy pronouncements by the Secretary of the Interior. We have pledged ourselves to bring leadership into the Bureau of Indian Affairs which will carry out our platform promises. We would not tolerate a situation in which promises are made by the Secretary of the Interior, only to be ignored or even undermined by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
When the Democratic party pledges itself to a program of human and natural resource development, a program to improve health, education, and economic well-being, it does so against a background of experience and accomplishment. One major reason why the present administration has failed to give needed help to our Indian population and why a Nixon administration will similarly fail is that it would be neither equipped not inclined to do the constructive thinking that is needed to help a depressed and impoverished group of our population. It is hard to visualize a Nixon administration concerned with the welfare of Indians, but unconcerned about West Virginia coalminers, unemployed textile workers in Massachusetts, hard-hit farmers in Minnesota, aged people in need of medical care, school districts in need of funds to augment teachers' salaries.
Our program for Indians, by contrast, fits into our general approach to the problems facing the United States in the sixties. We believe in raising the sights of our country, in exercising world leadership, and backing up our position through a stronger, more productive America. In such an America there would be no room for areas of depression, poverty, and disease. We want every group which is now unable to make its full contribution to American strength to be given the opportunity to do so.
In pledging assistance to American Indians we are offering them new opportunities not only as Americans of Indian descent, but as American citizens who, through no fault of their own, have not had these opportunities until now. Our Indian platform pledge, you will note, harmonizes fully with other, more general, platform pledges, such as that to assist depressed areas of chronic unemployment, to provide decent housing, and to inaugurate a Youth Conservation Corps. As you can see, Indians would benefit not only from our specific program in the field of Indian affairs, but also from our programs for help to underprivileged groups generally. The increased productivity of all these groups, including the Indian group, which would result from our program of opportunity, would repay the Federal investment manifold.
In closing this letter, I want to express my respect for the fine efforts of the Association on American Indian Affairs, and also the National Congress of American Indians and the Indian Rights Association in their work on behalf of our first Americans. Similarly, I want to congratulate the church groups and other organizations united in the Council Affairs, such as the American Missionary Association, the Board of Catholic Indian Missions, the Division of Home Missions, National Council of Churches, the American Friends Service Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, Arrow, Inc., and the Friends Committee on National Legislation. I want you to know that, if I am elected, my administration will be vitally interested in the suggestions and recommendations of these citizen groups and church organizations in the area of Federal policy toward Indians.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
|Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Letter on Indian Affairs from Senator John F. Kennedy to Mr. Oliver La Farge, President, Association of American Indian Affairs", October 28, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=74264.|
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