Monday, February 20, 2012

Nixon's Civil Rights 20

My reading of Dean Kotlowski's Nixon's Civil Rights has turned to the topic of President Richard Nixon's stance towards Native Americans. On page 193, Kotlowski states:

"Skeptical of integration between blacks and whites, the president saw no point in extending such a policy to Native Americans. He also equated the government's treatment of Indians with the liberals' tendency to use federal power at the expense of local or private initiative. Nixon called Native American policy 'a bitter example of what's wrong with the bankrupt, old approach to the problem of minorities. They have been treated as a colony within a nation----to be taken care of.' Fond memories of his Whittier College football coach, Wallace Newman, a Cherokee, reinforced the president's view. Newman, he told aides, had blamed the government for turning 'a once proud people' into 'wards.' Nixon did not romanticize traditional Native American lifestyles, which he deemed 'dirty, filthy, horrible.' Still, he believed that Native Americans deserved the opportunity to make their own choices and 'should no longer be treated like a colony within a nation.'"

Kotlowski talks in the above passage about Nixon's personal and ideological reasons for supporting Native Americans (and, as with African-Americans, his support was mixed with a degree of prejudice against them). On page 197, Kotlowski discusses the personal and ideological reasons that Vice-President Spiro Agnew was sympathetic towards Native American concerns: that he was "the self-made son of Greek immigrants", and thus sympathized with minorities struggling to advance. Agnew as Governor of Maryland had an impressive civil rights record, for he "named African-Americans to state offices, approved a fair employment code for the executive branch, and won passage of a mild open housing law to prohibit bias in the sale of new homes."

But there were also political and practical reasons for Nixon's concern for Native Americans. As with African-Americans, Nixon did not expect to receive a lot of Native American votes, but he did desire the ability to refute charges by liberals that he lacked compassion for minorities. Moreover, the Nixon years were a time when people became concerned about Native American issues. In 1972, Marlon Brando refused to accept an Academy Award for the Godfather because of the negative ways Native Americans were depicted in films and television (see Sasheen Littlefeather's remarks here). And a group of Native Americans briefly took control of Alcatraz, "claiming it for all tribes 'by right of discovery'" (page 198).

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