American Indians in World War I: Military service as catalyst for reform



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Texas Tech University


Native American contributions during World War I gave impetus to reform movements in the 1920s and 1930s and exerted a strong influence upon the way that Anglos perceived Native Americans and how Indians viewed themselves. The war-time experience also encouraged a resurgence in traditional Indian cultural practices and provided fertile ground for the emergence of Pan-Indian organizations in the post-war era.

Native American alliances with non-Indian allies date back to the colonial era. During the 18th and 19th centuries, American Indians served as scouts, trackers, and advisors to army officials throughout the country. For a short period in the 1890s, the federal government established segregated units of Indian soldiers in the army, both to hasten assimilation and to utilize the Native Americans as scouts and trackers.

During World War I, Dr. Joseph K. Dixon, the Secretary of the National American Indian Memorial Association, lobbied Congress to reestablish segregated Indian units. Contrary to earlier efforts, Dixon sought to preserve Indian cultures rather than hasten their demise. His efforts marked a growing struggle between advocates of assimilation and preservation that continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Viewed in this light, the debate over segregated Indian units during World War I helped lay the groundwork for the passage in 1934 of the Indian Reorganization Act.



Indians, World War I, Indians of North America