A Statement to the Committee on Indian Affairs 1942
A Statement by Ms. Jeanette Rankin, a Congressional Representative from Montana, to the US Congress on February 23, 1942, sought answers to the problem of “Landless Indians” in Montana. In her address to congress, Ms. Rankin states:
“Throughout the country, there is a sizable group of people biologically of the Indian race for whom the Federal Government, through its Indian Service, has never assumed definite responsibility. Many of these, particularly those in the eastern part of the United States, are definitely affiliated with tribal groups. There are others who are not officially affiliated with any recognized tribe or band and have been known as unenrolled Indians. In the State of Montana, the problem of these unenrolled Indians has become acute. They possess no land and have few resources of any kind. Because they are considered Indians, they are often unable to avail themselves of relief and other forms of assistance provided by the local county or State governments. The history of the legal status of the landless unenrolled Indians in the State of Montana and their claims for assistance upon the Federal Government are diverse.
There are at least two groups who recognize separate leadership.
On January 18, 1940, Raymond Gray as chairman and Rose Gray as secretary of one of these groups, known as Montana landless Indians, submitted to the Secretary of the Interior a petition of approximately 600 names of Indians who claim to be of one-half or more Indian blood. These people reside in the State of Montana but have never acquired Indian rights or been enrolled on en Indian reservation. The purpose of this petition was to seek enrollment under section 19 of the Indian Reorganization Act. (This act authorizes the enrollment by the Indian Office of Indians of one-half or more Indian blood who are not affiliated with any recognized tribe or band.) There is another group centered about Malta, which recognizes another leadership. A delegation from this group has visited the Indian Office and interviewed members of Congress to solicit aid in the purchase of lands for their benefit. This group has been sponsored by Mrs. D. M. Phillips. Mr. Phillips owns ranch properties in this area which have been offered for sale to the Indian Service for the use of these Indians.”
"From these various estimates, it would be conservative to place the number of unenrolled landless Indians in the State of Montana as between 2,600 and 3,000 Individuals, or between 500 and 600 families. They are distributed geographically as follows:
"The outlook of these Indians generally offers difficult problems. As an underprivileged group, accustomed to the lowest standards of living and bred in an atmosphere of governmental indifference, they will require more than the gift of land to propel them toward industry and social responsibility.
Many factors make the placing of landless Indians upon existing Indian reservations in the State an exceedingly difficult, if not impossible task. In the first place, such action on the part of the Government would immediately give rise to a claim, unless the tribe from which the land is taken be adequately compensated. From this point of view then, It would make little difference whether the lands be bought from Indians or whether they be bought from private or State holdings. In the second place, Jealousies would arise among the several groups within a reservation which would make administration very difficult.
The Indian Service has examined three ranches in the State of Montana as possible sites for the resettlement of a portion of these Indians. These are the P. N. ranch, including the supplementary holding known as the "79" ranch, owned by Carstens Packing Co., Tacoma, Wash., and located In Fergus County, along the Judith and Missouri Rivers, 66 miles northwest of Lewistown, Mont.; the Phillips ranch, owned by Phillips Development Co., Malta, Mont, located In Phillips County; and the Flowerce ranch, owned by Teton Land Co., Lowry, Mont., located on the Sun River In Lewis and Clark, Teton, and Cascade Counties. The reports of these exploratory surveys are available in the Indian Office."
"Some years ago, the Indian Office In cooperation with the Subsistence Homestead Authority purchased a tract of land embracing 42.62 acres located in Cascade County on the outskirts of the city of Great Fall, planning at that time to set up a number of small homesteads for the Indians located on Hill 57. Opposition developed among the people living in the vicinity which forced the abandonment of this project. Recently health conditions, lack of sanitary facilities, and the growing Indian population have served to bring this problem again into focus. Congressman Rankin has been especially interested in the plight of this group. Other members of Congress, Senator Murray, Senator Wheeler, and Congressman O'Connor, have maintained a continued interest in the general situation.
Among possible solutions, the following and doubtless others should be considered:
In working out projects under the first three heads above, clear-cut, guiding principles are important, among which are:
Adapted from Interior Department Appropriation Bill for 1943: Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hearing Date: Mar. 3-6, 9-10, 12-13, 1942. Subcommittee on Interior Department Appropriations; Committee on Appropriations.