JUNE 14, 1954
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I've received a letter which I would like to quote to you.
"Now that the American people are rejoicing over the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court ending segregation in public schools," it reads, "it seems the moment to call everyone's attention to the fact that the United States Treaty of 1868 with the Navajos obligated the government to provide a teacher and a classroom for every 30 children, and that a recent bulletin from the Indian Bureau states that there are now 14,000 Navajo children of school age for whom no education is provided.
"Last year, President Eisenhower signed a bill creating Public Law 280 although he said that it was 'un-Christian' and wished it changed by the next Congress. I am having sent to you an issue of the Christian Century with an article by John Collier telling of new bills that will cause still greater hardship for the Indians if enacted into law, and also the bulletin of the National Congress of American Indians which gives their objections to this legislation.
"Since Public Law 280 is 'un-Christian,' should it not be repealed and the fine Reorganization Act of 1934 again become the law for all Indians?
"It is of great importance that any law granting statehood to Alaska should ensure the protection of all Indians, Eskimos, and their full rights and provide for enforcement thereof. I understand that the present draft does not make this clear."
This is a thought-provoking letter because there is a great deal of argument as to the best way to treat our Indian population. They have been wards of the state. They should by this time be ready, had we given them all we had hoped to give them, to become independent citizens of the United States. But we have not been completely successful in achieving the maximum education and preparation. Therefore, there is a grave question whether they are ready to accept their full responsibilities as citizens, and it is the duty of the government to see that they are protected until it has taken measures to make them able to look after themselves.
In every community there are people ready to exploit the weak, and it seems to me very essential that we should not forget this part of our population which has not been as fairly treated through the years as the great majority of our people had hoped it would be.
Some of the tribes have potential wealth. Many of them are living in poverty. They have, however, served in our armies and fought for the United States. They are certainly entitled to full citizenship. But it should not come to them as a hardship added to the burdens of poverty and lack of education. It should be given them only when we know they are prepared to accept it and find it possible to protect themselves.