Indian Reorganization act of 1934

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 reduced federal control of First American affairs and increased tribal sovereignty, responsibility and self-governance for First American nations. It is also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act. The act was a major steppingstone in allowing First American tribes to decide their own futures within the United States [1].

The Meriam Report

The Act came about after the 1928 Meriam Report, which uncovered inadequate care of First Americans living in boarding schools. The study noted the poverty, disease and high death rates within reservations.

The Meriam Report also included the destructive nature and erosion of First American tribal lands caused by the General Allotment Act of 1887.

Recommendations from the Meriam Report were put into the Indian Reorganization Act. According to, “The act curtailed the future allotment of tribal communal lands to individuals and provided for the return of surplus lands to the tribes rather than to homesteaders” [2].

Roosevelt’s “New Deal”

The Indian Reorganization Act was enacted when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies were at their height. Many of the president’s agendas were based on relief, recovery and reform. It is noted that the Act began a new era of federal and tribal relations.

While progressive, there were negative aspects to the Indian Reorganization Act. Some actions the tribes took needed to be approved by the secretary of the interior, limiting the sovereignty of tribal nations. It also did not address previous laws that curtailed the tribe’s ability to make decisions. The Act included placing different tribes on the same reservation and creating one reservation, ignoring the cultural and civil unrest this action may cause [1].

[1] "University of Alaska Fairbanks," Nanook Nation, 1934. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 11 2021].

[2] Associated Press, "Native Voices," [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 11 2021].