Even before the start of the twentieth century, Native Americans were clearly being discriminated against.

In fact, by the end of World War I Native Americans were suffering from short life expectancy, disease, malnutrition, a diminishing land base and a poorly developed and unrealistic school system.

The 1920s was to be an era of discrimination against the Native Americans.

Problems faced by Native Americans

Education: Regarded as the best way to transform their lives, many young Native Americans were forced to go to boarding schools.

Children from the same tribe were separated to destroy any sense of tribal identity.

In these schools children were given European-style haircuts and were given new English names.

If they were found speaking their own language they were beaten. They were made to go to Christian church services. They were encouraged to ridicule their parents’ values.

The aim here was to try to destroy their traditional way of life.

Attending American schools was voluntary but Native American parents were bullied by the government to send their children to American schools.

In 1920 over 10,000 Native American children were educated in boarding schools away from their reservations.

Religion: In the United States in 1920, most Americans strongly believed that there was only one true religion - Christianity.

Most non-Indians felt that either Indians had no religion or that they worshipped the devil.

In either case, it was the duty of the government to bring the Indians into Christianity so that they could participate in American society.

While Indian religious activity had been illegal now for two full generations, many still performed some of the spiritual ceremonies, such as the Sun Dance.

The government therefore continued its efforts to stop these activities and to jail those who participated in them. During the 1920s whole tribes were forced to convert to Christianity.

Traditions: The wearing of traditional clothing was banned. Boys were not allowed to have long hair.

Politics: It was not until 1924 under the Snyder Act that all Native Americans were given American citizenship. Even then, many could not vote because of the literacy qualification. They were not allowed to have their own courts or control their own affairs.

Reform: The most significant reform work of the early 1900s came from the Meriam Report in 1928.

This work was the first study into Native Americans’ living conditions since 1850.

The report revealed just how shocking life was for Native Americans.

In terms of how they were treated by others, life expectancy, health and wealth they were much worse off than white Americans.

There was a series of recommendations made which included:

  • that the government should do away with "The Uniform Course of Study," which stressed only the cultural values of whites. Instead, Native American children should be taught about their own culture and history by teachers who valued tribal ways;
  • that only older children should attend the non-reservation boarding schools;
  • that younger children should attend a community school near home;
  • that the Indian Service must provide youth and parents with tools to adapt to both the white and Indian world.