Richard Nixon photo

Remarks in Omaha, Nebraska: "A Better Day for the American Indian"

September 27, 1968

The sad plight of the American Indian is a stain on the honor of the American people.

Historically, these native Americans who shared the first Thanksgiving and guided restless explorers across the American continent have been deprived of their ancestral lands and reduced by unfair Federal policies and demeaning paternalism to the status of powerless wards of a confused Great White Father.

Today, many of the 600,000 American Indians living on reservations suffer limitations, disabilities, and indignities that few disadvantaged groups in America suffer in equal measure.

Their infant mortality rate vastly exceeds the average for the nation as a whole.

Their education level is inexcusably low in spite of increased Federal spending on Indian education, and their motivation is sapped by an educational structure which forces them to reject their own culture as the price of educational advancement.

Their unemployment rate is 10 times the national average.

Their average family income is far below the national average and, in some areas, below $500 per year.

Ninety-five per cent of their housing is totally inadequate and improvements are stymied by bureaucratic restrictions on efficient production.

Off the reservations, many Indians, some of them unwisely relocated by the Federal government, have not been successfully assimilated and find themselves confined to hopeless city reservations of despair because of lack of education and skills.

The causes of these tragic problems cannot be confined to the 19th century era of expansion or excused as the growing pains of the nation.

The Indian people have been continuous victims of unwise and vacillating Federal policies and serious, if unintentional, mistakes. Their plight is a bitter example of what's wrong with the bankrupt old approach to the problems of minorities. They have been treated as a colony within a nation—to be taken care of. They should—and they must—be made part of the mainstream of American life.

To their great credit, the Indian people are not occupying themselves with the errors of the past. Many of them—seizing thin threads of opportunity—have made great contributions to our society. Now they are striving for a brighter future.

To help them reach the goals that they themselves have set and will set, my Administration will be pledged to the following policies:

The special relationship between the Federal government and the Indian people and the special responsibilities of the Federal government to the Indian people will be acknowledged.

Termination of tribal recognition will not be a policy objective, and in no case will it be imposed without Indian consent.

We must recognize that American society can allow many different cultures to flourish in harmony, and we must provide an opportunity for those Indians wishing to do so to lead a useful and prosperous life in an Indian environment.

The right of self-determination of the Indian people will be respected, and their participation in planning their own destiny will be encouraged.

I will oppose any effort to transfer jurisdiction over Indian Reservations without Indian consent, will fully support the National Council on Indian Opportunity and ensure that the Indian people are fully consulted before programs under which they must live are planned.

I will appoint a qualified Indian member to the Indian Claims Commission, will see to it that local programs and Federal budgets are operated with minimum bureaucratic restraint and in full consultation with the Indian people who should achieve increasing authority and responsibility over programs affecting them.

Independent school boards, funded at government expense, must be urged for each government-run school. Tribes should be urged to take over reservation law and other programs. Road construction and repair activities should be under Indian management. School service contracts for running school busses or for operating a school lunch program, should be funded as they are now but should be an activity of the Indian people themselves rather than of the Federal government.

The economic development of Indian reservations will be encouraged and the training of the Indian people for meaningful employment on and off the reservation will have high priority.

To date, the basic error of attempting to train the Indian work force only for off-reservation jobs has been the major cause of the lack of normal progress on the reservation.

My Administration will promote the economic development of the reservation by offering economic incentives to private industry to locate there and provide opportunities for Indian employment and training.

Large companies which have already located on reservations have been highly impressed with the reliability and productivity of Indian workers. Such companies can provide a stable economic base for a reservation and can and should be encouraged to permit the Indian people to share in the fruits of their enterprise.

The special development problems of smaller reservations will also be recognized, and the administrators of government loan programs will be encouraged to take businessmen's risks in sponsoring Indian enterprises.

Moreover, the recreation and tourist potential of Indian reservations can be improved as a source of continuing independent income which would in turn fuel further Indian-sponsored development.

Job training for Indian people must be accelerated on and off the reservation. I have promised my full backing to the Vocational Education Act and will see to it that the Indian people enjoy the full benefits of its provisions.

The administration of Federal programs affecting Indians will be carefully studied to provide maximum efficiency consistent with program continuity.

A first priority of my Administration will be a thorough study of the executive branch by an independent commission patterned on the Hoover Commission. The coordination of the various programs affecting the Indian people will be an important matter on the agenda of that commission.

I will particularly direct that attention be given both to the ultimately desirable administration of Indian affairs and to methods by which a smooth transition from the existing structure can be effected. I will instruct the commission to eliminate needless bureaucratic levels which insulate decision-making from the Indian people.

Improvement of health services to the Indian people will be a high priority effort of my Administration.

The Eisenhower Administration revitalized health programs for the Indian people and sharply reduced the death rate from tuberculosis and the infant mortality rate. Now new progressive steps are direly necessary.

Looking to the future, my Administration will stress programs of preventive medicine, additional modernization of health facilities, and assure greater progress in the delivery of health services to the Indian people.

The Indian people have long responded to deprivation and hardship by seeking to utilize the processes of orderly change. Through their own ability and determination, not a few of them have achieved notable success. We must seek to demonstrate to them all that our society is responsive to their patient pleas and help them to live among us in prosperity, dignity, and honor.

APP NOTE: From section two of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "To Make Our People One".

Richard Nixon, Remarks in Omaha, Nebraska: "A Better Day for the American Indian" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project