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Founded in June 1934, the American Indian Federation (AIF) grew from the Oklahoma-based Indian National Confederacy, under the leadership of Joseph Bruner. A wealthy, full-blood Creek, Bruner was president of the Sapulpa-based AIF throughout its existence. Although it was a national organization, Oklahomans such as Bruner, W. W. LeFlore, O. K. Chandler, and Delos K. Lonewolf dominated the federation and its leadership. The AIF had three goals: to repeal the Indian Reorganization Act, to remove Indian Commissioner John Collier, and to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The AIF believed that the government should consider American Indians to be U.S. citizens, rather than Indians, and consider them subject to all state and federal laws without BIA supervision. Other than these goals, members agreed on very little. The AIF used congressional hearings to support an assimilation program and to charge Collier and other government employees with being communists. Due to the organization's connections with right-wing groups, Collier branded it as fascist. By 1940 the group focused on its proposed Settlement Bill, which would have exempt some four thousand AIF members from BIA supervision for a final settlement of all claims against the government. This bill divided the AIF, causing several of its non-Oklahoman members to resign. The legacy of the AIF is difficult to assess. On one hand, it never achieved its goals; however, it kept Collier distracted by congressional hearings. The AIF was important because it was an early American Indian lobbying group that Anglos did not dominate. Some scholars credit the AIF with suggesting the tribal termination policy of the 1950s. It is clear that certain members of Congress respected the opinions of the AIF and gave them audience on Capitol Hill. Protests by Bruner and other AIF members led to the exemption of Oklahoma tribes from the Indian Reorganization Act and the passage of the 1936 Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. AIF activities disrupted Collier's plans for reform and forced him to defend his policies.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Thomas W. Cowger, The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999). Donald L. Fixico, Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986.) Laurence Hauptman, "The American Indian Federation and the Indian New Deal: A Reinterpretation," Pacific Historical Review 52 (November 1983). Laurence Hauptman, The Iroquois and the New Deal (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984). Lawrence Kelly, The Assault on Assimilation: John Collier and the Origins of Indian Policy Reform (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983). Kenneth R. Philp, John Collier's Crusade for Indian Reform, 1920-1954 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977).

Marci Barnes Gracey

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