National Defense and the “Indian Problem”: Examining US Involvement in the Inter-American Indian Institute, 1940–55

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Raquel Escobar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Scholars of United States Indian policy often dismiss U.S. participation in the Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII) as largely a “pet project” of John Collier, former Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While Collier certainly played a major role in U.S. involvement, his individual interest in this venture does not explain U.S. willingness to ratify a convention that committed the nation to long-term participation and monetary investment in a Pan-American organization. Looking beyond individual investment in the development of Pan-American Indian policy, this paper will examine U.S. interest, stakes, and motivation in participating in the Inter-American Indian Institute from approximately 1940-1955. By examining early interest and justification it is clear the U.S. government not only saw engagement in the IAII as an outlet for more expansive attempts at indigenous management, but also began to see it as an entry point for U.S. involvement in Latin America that would not be viewed as overt intervention. Moreover, a close examination reveals multilevel national anxieties rooted in ideas about “Indianness” and articulated through a discourse of national defense. These anxieties and motivations worked to both preserve and reframe an idea that had been inherited from the nineteenth century, that “Indianness” constituted a central barrier to the development of the modern nation.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>