John Dougherty

Appraisals of Competency: Race, Gender, and the Rhetoric of Federal Indian Law, 1945-1960

In the years following World War II, the status of federal Indian tribes was dramatically reconsidered. Beginning in the late 1940s, federal Indian policy was aimed at officially ending the relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes, or, as the Bureau of Indian Affairs called it, “a withdrawal from supervision.” This new policy direction would ultimately result in the unilateral termination of over 100 federally recognized Indian tribes by the mid-1950s. As part of their determination for which tribes would be terminated, the BIA offered “appraisals of competency.” These official “appraisals,” made by BIA agents, provided an evaluation of the social, cultural and economic “progress” made by Native men and women in the tribe, and determined whether or not Native peoples were “prepared” to be “released” from federal supervision. Drawing upon archival materials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, this project argues that these “appraisals of competency” demonstrate a racialized and gendered evaluation of Native American communities by the federal government, and highlights how these forces have influenced critical directions in federal Indian policy in the second half of the 20th century.