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John Collier (May 4, 1884 - May 8, 1968) was an American social reformer and Native American advocate.

Contents

Early life

John Collier grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where his father Charles Collier was a prominent banker, businessman, and civic leader. He was educated at Columbia University and at the Collège de France in Paris. At Columbia, Collier began to develop a social philosophy that would shape his later work on behalf of American Indians. He was concerned with the adverse effects of the industrial age on mankind. He thought society was becoming too materialistic and individualistic and argued that American culture needed to reestablish a sense of community and responsibility. Collier centered his career on trying to realize the power of social institutions to make and modify personalities. In 1908 Collier made his first significant contribution to a national magazine when an article which described the socialist municipal government in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was published in Harper's Weekly. Collier moved to California in October 1919, and worked for the California Housing and Immigration Commission organizing institutes to train people who would then teach Americanization to immigrants.

Indian Advocate (1919-1933)

In 1919 Collier experienced his first contact with American Indians while visiting a friend, artist Mabel Dodge, at the Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico. For much of the next two years he spent time at an art colony near Taos where he studied the history and current life of American Indians. When Collier left Taos in 1921 for a teaching job in San Francisco he believed that Indians and their culture should not be lost to the encroachment of the dominant white culture. He now rejected the forced assimilation and Americanization policies that were prevalent at the time and demanded cultural pluralism be accepted when dealing with Native American tribes. Collier identified Indian survival with retention of their land base and expressed this by lobbying for the repeal of Indian General Allotment Act of 1887. Also known as the Dawes Act, this legislation was an attempt at Indian assimilation by dividing up Indian reservation land into individual parcels of private property. In Collier's opinion, the general allotment of Indian reservation land was a complete failure leading to the increasing loss of Indian land. John Collier's emergence as a federal Indian policy reformer in 1922 marked a turning point in Indian affairs. As a proponent of cultural pluralism and the repeal of the Dawes Act, Collier directly attacked the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Prior to Collier, criticism of the Bureau was directed at corrupt and incompetent officials rather than the actual policies implemented. For the next decade Collier fought against legislation and policies that were detrimental to the well-being of Native Americans. Collier's efforts led to a monumental study in 1926-1927 of the overall condition of Indians in the United States. The results of the study became known as the Meriam Report. Published in 1928 as The Problem of Indian Administration, the Meriam Report revealed failures of federal Indian policies and how they had contributed to severe problems with Indian education, health, and poverty.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1933-1945)

With the publishing of the Meriam Report in 1928 and with Collier's continuous effort, Indian affairs once again became a prominent issue for the federal government. As a result of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, economic and social conditions worsened for most Americans including Native Americans. The administration of President Herbert Hoover reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs and also provided it with major funding increases. However, lasting reform of federal Indian policy did not occur until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and the introduction of his New Deal policies. As a reform-minded president, Roosevelt nominated John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933. To alleviate the conditions brought on by the Great Depression, Collier set up the Indian Civilian Conservation Corps. The Corps provided jobs to Native Americans in soil erosion control, forestation, range development, and other public works projects. Coinciding with Roosevelt's New Deal, Collier introduced the Indian New Deal with the passing of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 which became one of the most influential and lasting pieces of legislation relating to federal Indian policy. Also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, this legislation reversed fifty years of assimilation policies by emphasizing Indian self-determination and a return of communal Indian land which was in direct contrast with the objectives of the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887. Collier was also responsible for getting the Johnson-O'Malley Act passed which allowed the United States Secretary of the Interior to sign contracts with state governments in an effort to share responsibility for the social and economic well-being of American Indians. While Collier emphasized and vocally expressed support for Indian self-determination, his Indian New Deal policies were often seen by American Indians as just another paternalistic program forced upon them by the federal government. Criticism aside, John Collier did more to protect Native American land and culture than any other Indian Affairs Commissioner. After serving the longest tenure in American history, John Collier resigned as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1945.

Post-government Career

Collier remained active as the director of the National Indian Institute and as a sociology professor at the College of the City of New York. John Collier died in 1968 at Taos, New Mexico, at age 84.

Family

John Collier was the father of John Collier Jr. (1913—1992), a photographer and artist. John Collier's father was Charles Collier (1848—1900), the Mayor of Atlanta in the 1890s.

References

  • Collier, John (1963). From Every Zenith: A Memoir; and Some Essayson Life and Thought (NY: Sage books)
  • Collier, John (1962). On the Gleaming Way: Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and Their Land; and … (NY: Swallow Press)
  • Kelly, L. C. (1963) The Assault on Assimilation: John Collier and the Origins of Indian Policy Reform (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press).
  • Parman, Donald L. (1994). Indians and the American West in the Twentieth Century. Indiana University Press.
  • Philp, K. R.(1968) John Collier and the American Indian, 1920–1945 (Lansing: Michigan State University Press)
  • Philp, K. R. (1977). John Collier's crusade for Indian reform, 1920-1954 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press)
  • Prucha, Francis Paul. (1986). The Great Father. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Rusco, E. R. (1991)."John Collier, Architect of Sovereignty or Assimilation?" American Indian Quarterly, 15(1):49–55.
  • Schwartz, E. A. (1994). "Red Atlantis Revisited: Community and Culture in the Writings of John Collier." American Indian Quarterly. 18(4), 507-531.
  • Encyclopedia of World Biography
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