Daily book reveals little known battles for Native American rights

Release Date: 5/20/2010

Clarksville, Ark. --- Publishing is a part of the academic life, and in their quest for subjects on which to devote their energies, professors often find unique and little-known areas of inquiry for their books.

Battle for the BIA

Dr. David Daily's book, "Battle for the BIA: G.E.E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier," describes the troubled relationship between the leader of Protestant missionaries and the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Case in point: Battle for the BIA: G. E. E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier, Dr. Dave Daily’s fascinating examination of the development of Native American rights, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Indian New Deal, and the interpersonal wrangling and troubled relationship between the leader of the Protestant missionaries, G.E.E. Lindquist, and Roosevelt's chief Indian affairs architect, John Collier.

John Collier (1884-1968) was an American social reformer and Native American advocate. As a reform-minded president, Roosevelt nominated Collier as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1933. To alleviate the conditions brought on by the Great Depression, Collier set up the Indian Civilian Conservation Corps to provide jobs to Native Americans in soil erosion control, forestation, range development, and other public works projects. He also introduced the Indian New Deal with the passing of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which reversed fifty years of assimilation policies by emphasizing Indian self-determination and a return of communal Indian lands. John Collier did more to protect Native American land and culture than any other Indian Affairs Commissioner.

Gustavus Elmer Emanuel Lindquist (1886-1967) was an author and Field Secretary for the Indian Work of the Protestant Home Missions who spent much of his career in support of Native American assimilation and battling Collier’s policies. In the view of Lindquist and his peers, the remaining members of the Native American tribes were essentially wards of the state and needed to be slowly assimilated into mainstream American culture.

Daily says Lindquist originally supported treating Indians as wards of the BIA, so long as the ultimate goal was assimilation. But when Collier became Commissioner in 1933, Lindquist changed his approach and accused Collier of seeking to keep Indians in a perpetual ward ship as second class citizens. Daily says Lindquist was inspired in part by the civil rights movement with its emphasis on racial uplift through individual rights. 

Although he originally considered himself a reformer – as opposed to those who felt the Native American populations deserved nothing more than a “sink or swim” treatment – Lindquist over the years became more and more a reactionary against Collier’s work and views.

“Although he was never a cultural pluralist – for him, the concept of Native American self-rule was beyond the pale – Lindquist was of Swedish descent and knew what it was to love your ethnic enclave,” Daily says. “He saw America as a place where you could achieve the American Dream from any ethnic background. He didn’t feel you had to reject your background to succeed.”

Daily says that for Lindquist, however, Collier’s work as commissioner of the BIA went too far, and he fought them for the rest of his career. “Lindquist felt there were limits,” Daily says, adding Lindquist felt Collier’s views amounted to ‘civil heresy,’ while Collier and his people, behind the scenes, used existing treaties to argue for Native American legal rights. In some cases it backfired: for example Collier advocated for freedom of religion, for the tribes to be able to practice their own religions, but in one case the Navajo attempted to suppress peyote use among their people, and Collier found himself having to flip-flop on the issue to defend the rights of those who advocated the peyote use as part of religious practice. As you can imagine, Lindquist enjoyed watching Collier being hoisted on his own petard.”

Daily says doing original research was a very satisfying experience. “When I finally had access to the archives, I realized I was looking at material that no one else had seen since it was originally put in boxes and filed away. I was originally disappointed to discover Lindquist’s son had destroyed most of his father’s correspondence, but I could tell just from the few samples I found that the subject matter was going to be extremely interesting, if only I could find more. And since most letters were typed in triplicate, eventually I was able to find copies elsewhere, for example in the BIA archives located at the National Archives. I got to know the archivist there very well.”

Daily adds the published material gave no indication how heated and in fact personal the battle was between the two men. “From reading the letters, I ended up very much coming to respect was the way Collier and his colleagues helped to shore up some of the legal foundations for tribal sovereignty” he says. “Fortunately for Collier and the BIA, much of the groundwork they laid came to fruition in the 1960s and later, when various cultural and ethnic political groups, including the American Indian Movement, flourished – the occupation of Alcatraz in 1971, plus other models for engagement with land use that ran deeper than previous models had. While it’s true many tribes have continued to deal with the seemingly intractable problems of health and unemployment, many tribal governments have reaped great benefits from things like reservation oil reserves, natural gas, casinos – all issues that benefitted from the work of Collier and the BIA decades earlier.”

Daily hastens to add he doesn’t want to overly credit Collier. “We shouldn’t give too much credit to Collier for the developments in the last forty years, because that takes credit away from the Native Americans who have literally been fighting from the beginning to protect their lands and cultures.”

Daily’s own researches have continued since the books publication, he says, as he’s traced the BIA material via the work of Native American activist Vine Deloria, Jr., (1933-2005) an Episcopal priest and a leader of the Yankton band of the Nakota Nation who wrote widely on the politics of the BIA in the first half of the twentieth century and after.

“He wrote a blurb for my book, actually,” Daily says. “It’s a fascinating subject and a lot of fun to do the research. One of my main goals has always been to find research projects that are as much fun for my own students as what I did for this book was for me, to somehow turn my own research to the goal of helping my students with theirs”


Battle for the BIA: G. E. E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier is published by University of Arizona Press and is available for purchase from Amazon.com.