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"Disputable Truths: The American Stranger, Television Documentary and Native American Cultural Politics in the 1950s." Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1996.
CHAPTER SIX: ALL EYES ON MONTANA: TELEVISION AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF REGION
Questions of intercultural power and cultural control--based upon regional culture, race, ethnicity, religion and economic factors such as land ownership--gathered force and erupted in the political controversy surrounding the reception of The American Stranger. The documentary, produced with the unprecedented cooperation of various Indian tribes, political interest groups, and localized community activists, was filmed primarily in Indian communities in Montana. This national report foregrounded the localized knowledge of Montana's Native Americans and their supporters, blaming federal "termination" policies for the social and economic conditions on Montana's Blackfeet reservation and the "landless Indians" living on Hill 57 in Great Falls. Termination efforts were subsequently challenged by a coalition of American Indian interest groups and sympathetic non-Indians, drawing upon the public indignation and call to arms aroused by The American Stranger. The content of The American Stranger was significantly influenced by the involvement of regional tribal leaders and Montana activists, and the documentary was subsequently appropriated as a powerful discursive tool in their ongoing struggles on behalf of Indian rights and local grassroots interests. The single broadcast, along with subsequent localized screenings of the show's kinescope,
364 became the focal convergence for a host of ideological and political public debates surrounding the "Indian question." Why was The American Stranger particularly relevant to Montana activists, tribal and citizens’ groups? Although tribal groups are scattered throughout the nation, the U.S. government has institutionalized Indian Affairs as a "land" issue, subsumed under the Department of the Interior and its parallel Congressional committees (Interior and Insular Affairs). "Indian affairs" has also generally been considered a regional (Western) issue, since the majority of land at stake was in the West due to a history of continued westward relocation and removal of Indians beyond the western boundaries of white settlement. In the late 1950s, Montana's ranking Democratic Senator James Murray was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, a committee split along party lines between those sympathetic to populist interests (including Indian constituents) and those with strong allegiances to Western land-based business interests. The coalition that united Indian and non-Indian citizens of Montana in political and social action around Native American issues was essentially formed in 1953-54, when citizens’ groups from around the state rallied to express support for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes threatened by the Flathead Termination Bill. This coalition was a loosely woven and informal confederation of localized, state and regional groups--tribal, religious, partisan and non-partisan--which found themselves coming together in various configurations over and over again during the postwar years on a number of social and political issues. Well-connected to State legislators and Montana’s Congressional delegation, and heavily Democratic in their party
365 affiliations, many of these groups had the constituency to gather a great deal of populist clout when called upon to do so. This Montana pro-Indian network included localized groups, such as Great Falls’ Friends of Hill 57 or the Montana Citizens Against Termination, which were chartered to address a particular local social and/or political need specific to their communities, as well as (on the other extreme) regional chapters of national organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Organization and American Friends Service Committee. Other groups included those with a long-term organization but for which the specific projects varied according to the needs of the community or region, such as the Cascade County Community Council in Great Falls or the Business and Professional Womens’ Clubs (with local and state chapters), and those which existed primarily for other purposes but which took a political stand upon and became involved in issues which they deemed relevant to their mission, such as the Montana Farmers Union. The projects of the organizations and individuals in this network ranged from humanitarian benevolence within the community to active political lobbying at the state and national levels. An important regional organ was The People's Voice, a Helena-based statewide leftist newspaper. Many Democratic newspaper editors also served as conduits for community activism. Many of these Montana groups were spearheaded by women activists, a notable point in a political world which consisted almost entirely of men at the Congressional level and in federal agencies, as well as in government-sanctioned tribal leadership. 1 For example, the Montana Farmers Union was actively involved in the fight against Flathead termination. MFU Vice-President Dick Shipman of Lewiston, Montana, was a central player in the 1954 hearings on the Flathead Termination bill
366 before the joint session of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs and the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. In his statement at the hearings, he described the circumstances of his own cultural heritage as a (white) “neighbor and friend” of the Indians of Montana: My family came to Montana in the early 1880s, and my father ranched in country where the buffalo still grazed. The “Indian problem” was not a newspaper item, but was an important factor in the daily life of the Montana cattleman. I grew up in “Indian country.” My ranch and the region it lies in are rich in Indian tradition. . . . On my own account then, I speak here today as a neighbor and friend of the Indians of Montana. I have come to know and respect the American Indian citizens of my state. Their economic future and the well-being of my whole state will be injured if the Federal Government withdrawal from the Flathead Reservation. This is the view of both the organizations I represent today. The Montana Farmers Union includes almost one half of all the farm families in the state and our members are deeply concerned with the fate of our Indian citizens. I am also here [as a representative of] the Association on American Indian Affairs. . . .Our opposition to withdrawal rests on three grounds: moral, economic and legal. In our opinion, withdrawal is indefensible on any one of these grounds. Morally concerned about the effect that termination would have “upon the honor and integrity of our country,” Shipman asserted that they as individuals, a nation or a government must act in accordance with “ageless principles of moral law” rather than to violate such principles of “public morality” in the name of the United States Government. Speaking as a non-Indian, white American, and specifically to the fellow white Americans on the Congressional committees, Shipman also expressed white shame at the actions carried out by a white Government: When the intentions of the Government became known to the Indians of the Flathead Reservation last fall, an elder tribesman stood up at his
367 tribal council meeting and said, “It has now become clearly understood by us that a treaty with the U.S. Government means nothing.” I read those words with a feeling of shame. Later, he added, “I say we must all share the blame, that we should learn from the past and not make the same old mistakes again and again.” Speaking of anti-Indian racism (a rare topic of white discourse during this period), Shipman noted that “too many of our white Americans are unready to welcome the Indian into full and equal association. The State of Montana, for example, has no law guaranteeing the Indian protection against discrimination. It is not the Indian’s fault that in the towns and cities of his home state he is sometimes denied service in hotels and restaurants and generally is given employment only when no suitable white person is at hand.” Shipman entered into the widely-argued debate as to whether federal consultation with tribes was an adequate alternative to gaining their consent to policy changes affecting their futures; he urged a greater partnership with Indian tribes in any planning for change regarding their futures: The Indians have been told that this thing will be done to them. They have been told that it was so decided for them in Washington. They have been told to get ready for it overnight. Such things are not in the tradition of this land of freedom. Let me assure this Committee that there is no mystery or question as to how the Indian people feel about the proposed bill. They are opposed to it, and more; they are disillusioned, and they are bitter. They cannot understand why the great American Government could strike such a final and irrevocable blow against them. They have made their own consultation among their people, and you will hear it from their own spokesmen that the vast majority of Indians living on the reservations are opposed to termination. All the Indians of Montana are apprehensive and fear that this is only the beginning and wonder who will be the next to be liquidated.
368 Shipman provided a detailed historical account of the circumstances by which the Little Shell Band of Chippewa, who composed most of the population of Hill 57 in Great Falls, had come to be there. He described the conditions on Hill 57: Some 50 families, among whom there are 287 children, live in huts and shacks under slum conditions of the worst sort. There is no water supply on Hill 57; no sewage disposal, no electricity. Tuberculosis and dysentery are prevalent. the Indians who live here are sub-citizens on the edge of a beautiful and prosperous city; eking out a hand-to-mouth existence. The churches and civic groups of great Falls call Hill 57 a major social problem, a disgrace to their city. . . .This condition is not peculiar to Great Falls--it is a common situation in many cities throughout Montana and the Dakotas. How did Hill 57 relate to termination? Shipman explained, “I am opposing the present legislation because I fear that if it is adopted, in the course of time Indians now on the Flathead Reservation may be compelled to live in some other Hill 57. Not only the friends of the Indians of Montana, but the taxpayers generally, are fearful,” he added. In addition, Shipman spoke of the formative coalition of mostly-non-Indian citizens groups that had begun to mobilize against termination: Fortunately, there are many groups of citizens in Montana who are alive to this problem and are determined to do something about it. As part of their effort they are opposing the present bill under consideration here today. It is the desire and determination of good Americans to see that our injustices to the Indians are ended. This determination has never before been as urgent or as widespread as it is today. . . . Civic, professional, farm and labor representatives . . . [have] made known their opposition to the proposal. . . . He continued: [At a recent meeting in Great Falls] State, county and city officials from welfare, health and taxing bodies, joined with representatives of 35 civic organizations, church representatives, farm and labor leaders of the state of Montana in unanimously passing a resolution opposing the withdrawal program. Many similar meetings have been held in our state since the proposal became known, and all of them have been widely
369 publicized in the press. The proposed separation of our Indian citizens from federal supervision has become on of the key public questions in my state. 2 Shipman and the Montana Farmers Union delegates also garnered the support of their colleagues nationally, resulting in a 1954 Resolution on Indian Affairs adopted by the National Farmers Union, the text of which read: We oppose the withdrawal of federal jurisdiction over Indian affairs, because to do so would be a revocation of commitments and moral obligations entered into by solemn treaty between the United States government and the various tribes. These commitments include programs of health, welfare, and education which the individual states should not be asked to finance. The NFU Resolution continued: The rights of America’s original inhabitants in their lands and the resources of these lands should be protected by continued federal trusteeship. We shall continue to oppose the revocation of treaties and the abandonment of the Indian to rapacious, selfish groups who want the resources on Indian lands. We must continue to guarantee the Indian’s rights to preserve tribal culture and civilization from enforced assimilation. This is the basic right of self-determination which we believe should be accorded all people elsewhere. 3 Even many Montana Republicans were against the Flathead termination bill, though no doubt for different reasons, as this article from a Young Republican publication exhibited: Because of the implications not only for Montana Indians but for Montana taxpayers, this bill is deserving of careful inspection. On first glance the purpose of the bill. . . seems to be to remove all legal distinctions now existing between Indians and other U.S. citizens--seemingly a desirable thing. Scrutiny of the bill, however, brings to light many serious problems which have grown up over a period of years. Not only does the bill attempt to dispense with them in one fell swoop, but it also allows only two years for all this problem-solving to take place. Because the drafters of this legislation recognize the impossibility [of meeting this deadline], a great deal of the problem-solving is left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior,
370 which for practical purposes means the Bureau of Indian Affairs. . . . The “discretion” of the latter has not always merited public confidence. 4 The coalitions and activism on behalf of Native American political causes which were energized during the 1953-54 Flathead termination hearings forged deeply-rooted collaborative relationships between many white and Native American groups which were subsequently re-activated during the maelstrom which followed the November, 1958, broadcast of The American Stranger. This television documentary foregrounded the social, economic and political situations of two Montana Indian reservations and the urban Indian community in Great Falls--a television representation which many Montanans of both races proudly embraced as their own. The letters and memoranda about the NBC documentary which circulated among local Montana activists, their legislators, nationwide television viewers-turned-activists, regional and national interest groups, tribal groups, and the federal agencies are remarkable--for their sheer volume as well as their intense advocacy of tribal and community interests. The archival correspondence from the papers of Blackfeet Tribal Secretary Iliff McKay of Browning, Sister Providencia of Great Falls, Congressman Lee Metcalf of Helena and the grassroots organization “Friends of Hill 57" (led by Richard Charles, Max Gubatayao and Sister Providencia, all of Great Falls) provides us with intimate insights into the deeply interwoven relationships between these various individuals and the many organizational interests they represented. For many residents of western Montana, especially those living in the city of Great Falls and on the nearby Blackfeet Indian Reservation headquartered in
371 Browning, the broadcast of The American Stranger on November 16, 1958 effected momentous changes in their collective endeavors to address some of the social, cultural and, especially, economic problems that plagued their communities during the harsh fall and winter of 1958 and early 1959. Although their ideological interests may have differed, along with their personal styles of self-expression, the social actors represented in these documents shared a commitment to localized social/political action and a common desire to improve the living conditions for the Native Americans who lived on Montana’s reservations and in urban ghettos such as Great Falls’ “Hill 57." The voices of these letters convey a rich narrative, structured around the impact upon their lives--and the lives of their communities--of a single television program: The American Stranger. In addition to direct responses to the broadcast, a second wave of social action occurred as a secondary reaction to the show. Localized movements spun off from the impetus of the broadcast: inspired, aroused and energized by it. The spectacular rush of nationwide interest, spurred by the supplementary efforts of grassroots activists, aroused local Montanans to get involved in the political and humanitarian process. As one Great Falls-based circular prodded, “WHAT CAN WE DO? NBC's Indian Documentary was astonishing in its power to generate action-impulses in the viewers. . . . Keep on writing the stations when programs show the Indian in a favorable light. . . . Start working on your Congressional delegation for a new Indian policy statement for the Indian Bureau from Congress, for Congress must share the blame [with the Bureau of Indian Affairs] for present conditions. It alone has plenary power over the fate of Indian tribes. 5
372 Ironically, many of the Montana residents whose lives and interests were represented on the television documentary were unable to see the original broadcast, since television set ownership and access to reception in the sparsely-populated rural West were limited by many economic and geographical factors. For this reason, efforts to get kinescope copies of the broadcast for circulation in the heartland began even before the original broadcast. "The shining mountains were a barrier to reception but we have hopes of an educational-film copy of The American Stranger which can be shown on the reservations and in schools," Sister Providencia wrote. Requests came from individual letter writers, tribes and community-based agencies urging wider viewing opportunities. Former Shoshone tribal council member Reuben Martel wrote: "I believe that the Indian himself should be alerted to the Indian Bureau's method of termination and therefore I was wondering if your film would be available to Indian tribes and on what terms. I believe Indians everywhere should see this film." 6 A flurry of requests and attempts to procure a kinescoped copy of the documentary began a few days prior to the broadcast and continued for months afterward. After a number of requests to NBC through the offices of Montana's senators, NBC made a number of kinescopes to satisfy the needs of local and regional grassroots activists. Early in 1959, kinescopes began circulating in Montana. That winter and spring, the film was screened for the Blackfeet tribe at a special council meeting, before the Montana State Legislature at Helena, at open community meetings in Great Falls, and in other regional communities where racial and ethnic segregation and integration were perceived as problems. 7 Screenings of the kinescope to community, church and women's groups in the Great Falls area were
373 used in conjunction with other public education efforts and community relief drives to collect food, fuel, money and clothing for the native population on the Blackfeet Reservation and Hill 57 during 1959's severe and life-threatening winter of extended below-zero temperatures. The kinescopes, in great demand, were shuttled around the state to various tribes, schools and church groups and used as tools for political organizing. Sister Providencia reported that one was to be sent to several Canadian tribes as well, "to give them some courage to speak up for their own interests from the example of the Indian councilmen in the picture." NBC reported receiving hundreds of requests for the kinescope, and interest groups such as the NCAI and AAIA circulated their copies among their members around the country. Requests for the kinescope were even received from corporate interests, such as employees of the Rocky Mountain Gas and Oil Company, who had heard there were "parts of the film damaging to the oil interests." 8 In the following pages, I want to allow the “voices” of Montanans involved in the elaborately interwoven crises and concerns which arose during the winter of 1958-1959 to be heard--that is, to allow their letters to express in their own words what they were experiencing and the actions they took in the wake of the broadcast. In this section, I use the model of an epistolary novel--in which the narrative is produced by the letters themselves--as a technique upon which to model my presentation of this material. I will try to only interject my own voice (as master narrator) into this account to contextualize, provide missing details, or to summarize material I have chosen to omit due to constraints of length. I find the drama which occurred in the Great Falls and Browning area of Montana that winter of 1958-59 to be fascinating in its energy,
374 its advocacy efforts, and its ability to bridge the diverse ideological and social formations to unify these social agents into a politically powerful regional bloc. It was a social and cultural drama unified by a television program, a media event which provided the impetus and political energy needed to sustain a regional, and ultimately national, social movement.
VOICES FROM MONTANA Just following the broadcast of The American Stranger on November 16, Robert McCormick began to receive reports in Washington from his consultants in the Montana political trenches about the localized response to the documentary, especially in Great Falls and on the nearby Blackfeet Reservation. Richard Charles, secretary of the Friends of Hill 57 activist group in Great Falls, was one community leader who kept McCormick informed of the Montana political climate: Enclosed is a letter written to you by Sister Providencia today. This week has been so hectic that it doesn’t seem strange that she should be asking me to mail her personal letters. Also enclosed is a letter from Assistant [Interior] Secretary [Roger] Ernst to Senator [James] Murray. . . . Sister wanted me to tell you that . . . the Business and Professional Women, the Farmer’s Union, the YMCA, and the Lethbridge, Alberta, TV station, plus two other groups, have asked for film copies of this program. The state Farmer’s Union president has talked of nothing else since he saw your program. He calls it “the best in 20 years.” Charles continued with Sister Providencia’s feedback: Sister also wanted me to tell you what I thought of the show. I certainly liked it. I was amazed that anything so topical and “controversial” should be broadcast to the nation. I am used to such things being swept under the rug. Iliff McKay’s performance before the camera was excellent. That’s the best speech I’ve ever heard him make. The scenes in the Blackfeet Council room were excellent. Some of the kiddy shots were terrific for “human interest,” especially the clean plates at Heart Butte. I
375 have heard that children who saw the program were much impressed. The roundup scenes at Browning and the real estate scenes at Polson combined excellent photography and excellent commentary. . . . He added his own commentary: I have been tramping around Hill 57 about once a week for nearly four years. Never did I think that these familiar scenes would be put on the national screen, accompanies by macabre music. Indeed that which has been whispered in corners is now shouted from the rooftops. And this is what all of us here have wanted all these years. I believe this is the best publicity background to push public opinion toward a new Indian policy. In Great Falls, the program was carried by KFBB (CBS). It was amusing to have the lead man [Van Doren] say, “We don’t usually bandy Murrow’s name around this network!” This should have sugarcoated the pill for KFBB. . . . [italics added] 9 Enclosed with Charles’ letter was a letter from Sister Providencia to McCormick, her initial response to the televisual piece for which she had played so instrumental a backstage role. Her personal reaction reflects insights into the effective aesthetics of media construction: This will be in serial form as I try to gather impressions of The American Stranger. . . . These are the things that remain with me: the American stranger walking on the barren plains in an age of two cars in every garage; the fishing for food and not for fun; the child who made the sign of the cross; the pinched faces of the children at table; was it Mr. Van Doren who quoted the psalm? The direct and relentless hammering of the interviewer--a new prophet surely in the land of surplus production. . . the creativity of Iliff [McKay], the magnificent radio voice of Blackie Wetzel, the whole background of "Indians at work" against which you pitched your explanation and your biting commentary. . . .
376 The Sister continued with commentary on the show’s appeal: Above and beyond the documentary aspects, the artistic editing and musical arrangement, the tremendous human appeal--to me, the greatest single achievement of The American Stranger was the element of revelation. It was so new--so virgin a field, a story that has never before "gotten through" to the American public. No article, no magazine illustration, no argument has ever done what television has done--given us proof beyond dispute, beyond prejudice, beyond stereotype. It lived and breathed in a way that was a tremendous compliment to you because it was apparent that you had won the Indians' confidence completely. Of the reception, she wrote: One sister said that she could hear old Last Star’s heart beating. Father Byrne and Congressman Metcalf were very effective in their own way, but the message of the show belonged to you and the Indians and the camera. The viewing out here was not too successful because of the telephone relay, but the sound effects were perfect. We could not see Hill 57 and its macabre props but we heard more than enough of your hack-saw comments. Sister Providencia also directly confronted her own exclusion from the text of the broadcast, an exclusion that was remarkable to many who knew her centrality in the cultural and political affairs of Western Montana’s Indian communities. I was so gratified to have the Hill included, but my mother called me from Missoula, “Why weren’t you out there?” She said to tell you that the family kept waiting for the appearance because the TV Guide had mentioned my name. My only comfort in the barrage of demands are the words of one professor, “We did not need a prima donna. Everyone knows why Robert McCormick is so well-informed.” One of my former students phoned me all the way from Denver to ask why I was not in the show. She provided a local perspective about the pre-broadcast efforts to get on the Montana schedules: It is still an unsolved puzzle why KFBB here consented to order the program. Three weeks ago they were adamant--”We don’t have the time.” Then Tuesday the Friends of Hill 57 sent out about . . . 200 letters
377 putting the pressure upon New York NBC to make a kinescope. Wednesday night, KFBB phoned me and said crossly, “We are putting on your Indian show--had to cancel two programs. . . . “ Then unexpectedly the Great Falls Tribune consented to run a news item and Billings TV came in so that with Butte and Helena all Montana saw it, and Idaho saw it too, and so did Wyoming. . . . Metcalf’s office called me twice, joyfully. Mrs. Madigan and NBC-New York phoned conference on Thursday. . . . The lively nun also discussed the localized activism which had arisen surrounding (and as a result of) the television show: A prominent church woman wants to get up a caravan to go down to Billings and pound tables at the [BIA] Area Office. . . She is on a hunger strike. The students said, “Sister, let’s get letters going. Let’s do something to take advantage of the mood.” Women phoned, “What can we do?” or “I’m writing to Mansfield” . . . . Iliff said that he had to go to Cut Bank to see it. . . . He agreed with me that the editing was marvelous. He said, “If anyone had told me a year ago that this program would be possible I would have said that they were crazy. That Mr. McCormick will have his ears burning for a few nights because the Bureau will be raking him over the coals. But he told me that he wanted that to happen. the Blackfeet had about 35 minutes of the show.” When we talked of “What now?” he said the place to put the finger was at the Area Office and Assistant Director [Reinhold] Brust--the power to turn loose funds or to apply for a deficiency appropriation come January was entirely in his hands. . . . [so] Congress needs some prodding. 10 Immediately following the broadcast, Great Falls community leaders began gathering signatures on a petition to demand that the federal government take responsibility for the conditions of poverty and hunger on Montana’s Indian reservations. The following petition was sent to BIA Commissioner Glenn Emmons from a coalition of Great Falls citizens, spearheaded by the Friends of Hill 57 and
378 drafted by Richard Charles. Note that, like the documentary, it too plays upon the suffering of children: The recent television documentary, The American Stranger, brought home to us who are already aware of them the scope and seriousness of the problems which face you in regard to the general assistance needs of Indian families. The enclosed petitions are an affirmation from Montana citizens that they will support you in your efforts to meet these needs by initiating or activating Federal programs for general assistance. We do not agree with your advisors, and certainly Robert McCormick's documentary did not support them, that other forms such as tribal relief, categorical services, or surplus foods are meeting the needs of thousands on the allotted reservations. We know that the hunger of the Heart Butte children is duplicated in the other reservations of Montana as well as those of North and South Dakota and in Idaho. We know that the Federal Government has the resources and the authorization to give the children more than one meal a day. 11 As part of a massive political campaign nurtured by the interest aroused by The American Stranger, Charles also wrote to BIA Area Director Percy Melis (Billings Area Office) and the BIA Superintendents of all of Montana’s reservations, with copies to Montana’s Senators James Murray and Mike Mansfield: Enclosed is a copy of the petitions sent to Commissioner Glenn Emmons on behalf of the Indians of Montana who need and have needed a general assistance program that is adequate. The new stimulus was the television program from New York called The American Stranger. It told very vividly the problems of Montana Indians. The covering letter to the Commissioner further explains the reasons for the petition, and we would be very obliged if you would send us your
379 reactions. It is our intent to support the Bureau in realistic planning for a deficiency appropriation, if necessary, come January. 12 In a letter to Representatives Lee Metcalf and LeRoy Anderson, Charles explained further: At the bottom of each petition form was the sentence: "Uncle Sam, you were a stranger once and the ‘American Stranger' took you in." Sister Providencia dreamed that one up, and it refers to the CBS [sic] TV show of 16 November. We hope to prod the Indian Bureau into asking for a deficiency appropriation in January to cover general assistance programs on such reservations as the Blackfeet and Fort Peck. Above all, we hope that during the coming session Congress will issue a new directive on Indian policy, which will make such general assistance programs automatic. Sen. Murray's resolutions 85 and 3 were such a directive. 13 Senator Murray replied to Charles: Many thanks for sending me a copy of the impressive petition to Commissioner Emmons regarding The American Stranger. This petition was immediately called to the attention of the NBC news editor who is in Washington gathering comment on reaction to the program. 14 In the midst of the flurry of local political activism, a very personal letter from Sister Providencia to Iliff McKay reveals the nun’s fear of what might happen to the Blackfeet Tribe should her respected friend and tribal leader decide to accept a job offered him in Helena, the state capitol, during the Tribe’s period of crisis: I am trying to resign myself that if you must leave the old reserve [to take a job in Helena], you must leave. Robert McCormick told me that five
380 days up there was almost more than he could take--he found the unmitigated griefs and frustrations so insupportable. I said, "What do you think that the past four years have meant to a man like McKay who is so sensitive?". . . . I keep telling myself that you can be near enough to keep a hand on things, that you are idled by the impasse, that you have to do something, that your nerves have had more than they can take, that no great harm can come to the tribe and its interests, that the people does not deserve any more of your patience and support and every kind of aid. I keep telling myself--but it is whistling in the dark. It is like burying you. It is as if that was our last talk together and I say, "He was happy and relaxed that day." At least it is a joyful memory. Now, why is all this? . . . She also discusses the local actions and reactions, both political and humanitarian: The petitions go merrily on. The first batch was sent on the eve of Thanksgiving. A man returning from the Coast said that Spokane, Portland, Seattle all saw it and the talk runs high. It intrigues me that the flood of mail from the general public has hit squarely at the Bureau . . . not a doubt in the public's mind where it wants the responsibility. I am getting an enormous amount of clothes again, even though we shipped about a dozen or more boxes. It would have cost us $26 by parcel posts, etc. Mrs. McCormick even sent some. There are six large boxes waiting for the next opportunity. Will keep you posted and you keep me posted . . . especially on the offer. God keep us all. 15 Sister Providencia also wrote a letter of thanks to the AAIA’s Oliver LaFarge for his organization’s role in planting the seeds that got the television show started in the first place: I have the heartiest congratulations for the Association’s contacts with Robert McCormick. The American Stranger has had the most remarkable effect where such an effect was most unlikely--in the West itself. People keep telling me, "I learned so much." [One] delegate to the West Coast said that in all the cities he visited there was much talk of the
381 broadcast. It is possible that we shall have a re-showing in Montana. We are deeply indebted to NBC for the miracle. I do hope it means that relief is in sight from the abandonment policy. It is going to take years to rebuild the spirit and gains of the Indian Reorganization Act. I pray to God every day that the awakening is not too late for the Plains Tribes. Thanks to you, the public is awake. 16 On the bottom of the copy of this letter that she sent to McCormick, Sister Providencia commented, “The Blackfeet are on the verge of collapse. Only two people are working at the Tribal Office. No relief will start until January. Iliff McKay has been offered a job at the State Welfare Office in Helena, ironically.” Ominously, she added, “If he goes. . . .” as if shaking her head in doubt, fear and bewilderment. The correspondence to McCormick from his Montana consultants kept the postal service busily occupied. To the Montana activists, McCormick was not merely a journalist who had come seeking a story, but was instead perceived as a fellow activist who had the resources of the television media at his disposal. The two-way relationship between McCormick and his Montana connection became very personal, and lasted for years. In this letter written several weeks after the broadcast and just before the public eruption of the NBC-BIA feud, McCormick wrote to the activist nun: So much has happened since our “American Stranger” show that I simply can’t take time now to tell you all of it. The mail response has been fantastic. I have had about 200 letters, our New York office has had at least as many, Metcalf’s office is deluged--and I am told the Indian Bureau had to assign three clerks just to sort theirs. So far as I know, the reaction has been practically unanimously good--with the notable exception, of course, of the Interior Department. So far my people are standing solidly behind the program and me. I expect to be called upon to talk to many members of Congress about what I learned and also to furnish various committees with kinescopes of the program.
382 He also addressed her earlier comments about being left out of the show: The only thing wrong with it, as far as I was concerned, was the fact that you were not in it. I debated with myself for some time about whether I should use your name and finally decided against it on the theory that since you did not actually appear in the film, I would seem to be reaching too far if I simply rang you in. But your contribution to the program must be obvious to you and to everyone who saw it. Your dedication to the problem was an inspiration to me and will continue to be. 17 The Great Falls-based “Friends of Hill 57" team of Dick Charles and Max Gubatayao, together with Sister Providencia, continued to build upon the swell of local sentiment aroused by the television broadcast. In early December, they sent this “Indian Information” circular to local and regional members of the Friends of Hill 57: Did you see The American Stranger on NBC’s Kaleidoscope, Nov. 16? The “stranger” was the Indian of today on the reservations and in city environs like Hill 57. We saw Menominees of Wisconsin in forestry operations, Flatheads and their Christmas tree business, Blackfeet and their cattle. We heard Congressman Metcalf, Father Byrne and Bob McCormick against termination.
COMMENTS Indians of Hill 57: “This is the first time that the truth about Indians has been told.” KFBB-TV (here): “No program ever brought so many calls and letters--all favorable!” Washington, D.C.: “NBC has entered the show in all national award competitions.” “Congressman Metcalf’s office phoned that they have a thousand letters.”
383 “The Bureau of Indian Affairs put on three extra people just to SORT the mail.” QUOTABLE QUOTES Robert McCormick, the commentator, was introduced by that $64,000 quiz champ, Charles Van Doren, who opened the show with that quotation by Ed Murrow about TV which we quoted in our last letter. . . RESPONSE OF THE FRIENDS OF HILL 57 TO “THE STRANGER” Mrs. Margaret Enyart of Great Falls wanted a delegation of citizens from here to go to the Indian Bureau Area Office at Billings to talk over the question of getting Federal assistance. Mrs. John Hall, City Council, suggested taking a petition of 2,000 names to show that the citizens would back up favorable action on the part of the Bureau. Over 400 petitions developed by Thanksgiving week, but a good old Montana blizzard stopped us cold--and I mean COLD--so the signatures were mailed to Commissioner Emmons in Washington and a copy to the Area Office. The Bureau has not yet turned loose the $25,000 of relief money from tribal income nor made the $50,000 general assistance grant asked by the tribe. Come January, if the Blackfeet must have a hungry Christmas as well as Thanksgiving, there is always the chance of a deficiency appropriation--if the Bureau sees fit to ask for it. The TV performer, Iliff McKay of the Blackfeet, told the Tribal Council recently that 2,800 tribesmen will qualify for relief when there is a relief program. He asked us to keep going on the petitions to the Commissioner. ARE YOU WILLING? . . . . “WHAT CAN WE DO?” NBC’s Indian documentary was astonishing in its power to generate action-impulses in the viewers. The sincerity and concern of Robert McCormick had a lot to do with this. Dr. Nutterville tells us to keep writing the stations when programs show the Indian in a friendly light. Max says to start working on your Congressional delegation for a new Indian policy statement for the Indian Bureau from Congress, for Congress
384 must share the blame for present conditions. It alone has plenary power over the fate of Indian tribes. More on this in our next letter.18 That same week, Max Gubatayao sent a circular to Catholic priests across the state of Montana: Dear Reverend Father: Please excuse this circular letter form and the shape that our newsletter is in. We are on a very short buckskin string in this communication with you. My work as a pharmacist at Columbus Hospital here in Great Falls has brought me very close to the now-famous television program, The American Stranger. The polio babies shown in the film have received heavy doses of vitamins and other treatment . . . from our department. . . . I heard from the sisters who know people in your part of Montana that the lay people are very disturbed by the sufferings of the children on the reservation. . . Conditions have not improved since the show, although we have hopes. Our organization helps reservation Indians who are out of work in Great Falls, as well as Hill 57. After his introduction, Gubatayao made his plea: Do you think your people could get some clothes and maybe food up to the reservation in the near future--until the Government decides to move? Mrs. Robert Engellant [of Heart Butte School] writes: “One boy in my class has to use baling wire to hold his shoes together. The size needed in children’s shoes is 13. . . .” Mrs. Gene Ground [of Starr School] writes, “If you have any clothes for boys I could surely use some for nine- and ten-year-old boys. I have one boy in my class who is 13 and has no jacket or coat. He is quite tall. I will go tonight and say the rosary for the baby that died during the blizzard. I wish I could write a book. We can only realize their pitiful state when we enter their homes.
385 They are brave and courageous and very charitable to one another. . . .” 19 In her letter to Senator Mansfield during this period, Sister Providencia explicitly sets forth her goal for a policy change as a result of the television-related activism: It was very kind of you to intercede on behalf of film copies of The American Stranger. I did not have in mind a copy for the school; I was just simply frantic at the idea that no kinescope at all would remain after the initial showing--such a dictum had been given from NBC New York to KFBB. . . . She wondered about Mansfield’s reaction to the show: We are really anxious to know if you were able to see the program. A field man from here was on the coast and said that so many people were talking about the program in Spokane, Seattle and Portland. You will soon have a bulletin telling that the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington had to put on three clerks (horrors--ECONOMY!) just to sort the mail they have received. . . . It seems that no one viewed the program and remained unscathed. We are astounded at the change of views here about Indian need. The Sister continued with fuel for political action: It is very marked, in my mind, that the general public knew where to go with their demands for action--to the Bureau itself. They want the Indian injustices remedied and they want the Federal Government to do a job. Here is all the ammunition you need for a policy change, and I am delighted to hear you will take up the subject soon with the Montana delegation. I pin my hopes that a policy declaration, no matter how innocuous. . . will come in time to save the tribes. That is why it should be one of the first orders of business, because then the emphasis of administration will be dragged off the super-deluxe, city-centered Indian Bureau programs to the desperate needs of the reservations. . . . Everything depends upon a rapid clincher of the mounting [public] sentiment and a swift dike against the pounding waves of tribal disintegration. 20 In Mansfield’s absence, the nun received a reply from one of his legislative assistants on U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations letterhead:
386 Senator Mansfield is in New York attending sessions of the United Nations General Assembly as a delegate, and in his absence we wish to acknowledge receipt of your good letter and the enclosures. . . . I do not know whether the Senator had a chance to see the TV program, The American Stranger, but I know he certainly has received considerable comment through the mails from various parts of the Nation. This is one thing that should really help in bringing the Indian problem to the attention of the entire country. As soon as Congress convenes, a new resolution along the lines suggested by you and your associates will be one of the first things considered by the [Montana] Delegation. . . . 21 Yet the economic disintegration continued to haunt the Blackfeet Tribe and its members during its period of severe economic depression, as reflected in this letter to Sister Providencia from an elderly Blackfeet woman prior to the mid-December reprieve when oil lease money came through: Dear Sister: Was just thinking of you this evening thought I would drop you a few lines how are you hope you are fine. As for me not so good. I had bad luck my husband died shortly after we got back from Great Falls. I sure am in a bad fix no wood no food our council won’t help me out I think I am going to freeze in the house I rent, and I sure would like it if there was is a way you could help us all out. For one thing pray for us all. Not just us all my people sure need food and wood. Well sister I am going to close hoping to hear from you soon. Please answer real soon. Your friend, Mrs. Agnes B. Wells 22 On December 10, the Blackfeet Tribe opened sealed bids on oil leases and realized a $1,600,000 income. In a personal letter to McKay written two days later (on the date of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Sister Providencia wrote: Is this really it? Does the oil lease surpass your hopes? Has Our Lady heard our prayer? I am fervently hoping that the answer is YES, and that the people can be helped soon. Why didn't the Public Health call for a Great Falls doctor who could tell them something of the after-effects of malnutrition and spur that lazy outfit to help you get food?
387 Your answer was terrific to their academic pronouncements, and your letter to the area office response is a McKay masterpiece--which is saying something if you were not already too conceited. Could I have a hundred copies? Now that we are in the money can anything be done about sending Richard Charles some money to ship your clothing from here? Lots of love to all, Sister 23 The good Sister also wrote an effervescent letter to McCormick: Your Moccasin Telegraph may have told you already that the Blackfeet Tribe is saved, thanks to "The Stranger" and our prayers and Indian stamina. We finished our nine days of prayers to the "Sun Lady" of Guadalupe on December 12. . . . That morning, as you will note from the clippings, a $100 per capita payment was announced from the oil leases of Dec. 10. Yesterday the orders were paid out . . . not 3 months from now [as] in BK--Before Kaleidoscope. She told of local and national responses to the broadcast: On the next Monday came word from the Senators' offices that they have started to work on a new Res. 3; and this week, the Bureau cleared the way to get surplus clothing for the tribes. It was over the radio that boxes of clothes are pouring into Browning (some of this from the enclosed letter from Max to 45 parishes in western Montana where the currents boil with talk about "The Stranger".) . . . . The activity is unprecedented in Indian country. We are getting a special rate from the railroad on boxes shipped from here . . . 200 pounds yesterday for $2.83. Most astounding of all was news in the paper that Havre was giving a Christmas party for Rocky Boy Indian children. From Havre! . . . where there are signs in restaurants, "No dogs and Indians allowed." In addition, she noted the palpable changes in attitude: NO ONE WHO HAS SEEN THE AMERICAN STRANGER IS EVER UNFRIENDLY AGAIN. To me, this is the biggest tribute to the power of the show, right out here where blood is scarcely dry on torn scalps (as history goes), and we who know our own people and their attitudes after years of work for Hill 57 are in a position to essay the change. It is this which is sufficient to gain you the award so coveted. I imagine it is almost enough just, to be nominated. Now people are saying, "You
388 know, he is better than Edward R. Murrow. " Why? They listen for your name since Nov. 16. Anticipating a Congressional hearing, Sister Providencia offered her support: You probably are just waiting to be called for descriptions of what you saw--and we are getting some terrific pictures from Rocky Boy to back you up statements about Blackfeet. We have stacks of testimonials to send also. One woman said to me in the hall just now, "What are we going to do for Robert McCormick?" I said, "Endorse the Peabody nomination." She said (the girls!) "Give me a week after Christmas and I'll get five or six organizations going. Once again, she commented upon her absence from the broadcast: Enough of this or we'll ruin you for sure. As for the desperation the weeks before the show went on. . ."How can I tie this thing together by myself?". . . It was enough that I refused to help you that I should have had no mention. Moreover, events have proved that three right-handers in a row would have been one too many, especially before their only meal. God took pity on your disaster-dizziness and made earnestness out of desperation so that it has taken the Bureau 31 pages to express their emotions. We are helping to prepare a rebuttal of the rebuttals when you have to appear. In closing, the Sister reviewed the despair just prior to the celebrations: A merry a Christmas to you and yours as you have given me by lancing the wound of a dying people. For the last six months, as you know, mere survival was in question. P.S. The following was the worst before positive results began to show: 1) The Tribal office was closed down to all but two employees; 2) Iliff was considering an offer from the State Department of Welfare to work for it in Helena; 3) Three such letters as the following had come in a week: [quotes letter from Mrs. Agnes Wells of Browning, Montana, dated December 10, 1958] When I called Iliff about this and asked if we could try to scrounge money from here he said, "I have been out there twice
389 with fuel and food. It is a need without bottom. There are six people with her. They have nothing." Mrs. Wells is a great-grandmother.
The same week, a national wire release from Washington announced the result of politicking on behalf of the Blackfeet in Washington as a result of the documentary: WASHINGTON (UPI)--Montana’s senators announced Monday institution of a relief program for the Blackfeet Indians, one of the subjects of an hour-long television broadcast recently. Senators James Murray and Mike Mansfield said the Interior Department advised them the program will be instituted “just as promptly as possible” by the Indian Bureau. The Interior Department also said it has “found a way” whereby excess blankets or other suitable items not needed by other federal agencies may be channeled to the Montana tribe. The program was described by the Democratic senators as “involving the relief of distress.” Bureau officials reportedly are working with the General Services Administration to determine types and amounts of goods available. In Browning, Tribal Secretary Iliff McKay said showing of The American Stranger by the National Broadcasting Company had resulted in a flood of letters and packages. 25 Richard Charles wrote to McCormick, sending him this local newspaper article, and adding: "Iliff McKay has commented that nothing has come of this so far. He imagines they'll crash thru with the wool blankets next summer." Charles also sent McCormick a front-page story in the Christmas Day issue of the Glacier Reporter, which read: “Tribe issues $100,000 on per capita payment. It was estimated that approximately $100,000.00 worth of store orders in $25 and $100 amounts were issued to local individuals and reservation families since December 11. Nearly all families made wise use of the orders for Christmas.” Charles continued: “I might add that several of these
390 news items from the 4 and 18 December issues reveal considerable social disorganization in the Blackfeet tribe. When I made a study of tribal relief among the Blackfeet in January and February 1958, I encountered a good deal of black pessimism, irritation and even desperation in the Blackfeet people. I am convinced that tight credit and no federal general assistance has resulted in this disorganization.” 26 Just before Christmas, Richard Charles wrote to McCormick with some good news: Enclosed are copies of letters showing the activities of Montana citizens since The American Stranger. The momentum grows rather than decreases. We have reliable reports that at least five towns have already responded to Max Gubatayao’s appeal in Western Montana, for clothing for the Blackfeet. Sister Providencia was sent a copy from New York (of the show), so that the children of Heart Butte will see themselves in a Christmas show to stop all Christmas shows. One of their teachers was here yesterday and said that the children were dying to see it. Bravo for NBC! 27 Charles enclosed a copy of a letter he had just penned to Emmons. A handwritten note on the copy to McCormick reads, “Signatures now total 800 from Montana viewers of the telecast”: Enclosed are more signatures for the petition sent to you on 24 November 1958, in regard to the citizens' desire that the Bureau take the general assistance load off the tribes, such as Blackfeet and Fort Peck, where the program has proven completely and humanly inadequate. I am also enclosing a duplicated copy of the original covering letter. You will probably be receiving additional signatures since the winter difficulties are impressing people with the need of Bureau intervention. 28
391 At the end of the year, Charles finally received a response from Emmons with reference to the original petition. Enclosed were two copies of the Interior Department’s Statement rebutting the television documentary, plus a letter that read, “We appreciate your letter of November 24th referring to the recent television commentary, The American Stranger. There are many problems to be faced in connection with meeting the real needs of Indian people which require an approach other than general assistance. We were deeply concerned at the presentation of Indian affairs in this recent television program. We are enclosing for your information two copies of a statement concerning this program prepared by the Department of the Interior, not only because of its specific answers to some of the statements made on television, but also because it tells something of why many Indians are in need and what their Government is trying to do to help them. Thank you for your demonstrated interest in the welfare of Indians.” 29 Mansfield received a more lengthy letter from Emmons in response to the Montana petitions: “This is in reply to your letter of December 11, 1958 which forwarded a letter from Mr. Richard A. Charles concerning general assistance needs. We appreciate sincerely Mr. Charles' interest and support for an increased general assistance program. We believe that a general assistance program for Indians should take into consideration all resources which are available, and that it is reasonable to expect Indian tribes with substantial resources to make some provision for their needy members who are not eligible for state or local assistance programs. The Bureau is then able to concentrate its assistance funds to meet the needs of members of poorer tribes. This is the policy which is followed, and accounts for the fact that the Bureau
392 has a general assistance program on some Indian reservations in Montana and not on others. When a tribe considers that its available resources are not sufficient to permit tribal assistance to needy members, careful and thorough consideration will be given to its members.” “Mr. Charles refers to the television program, The American Stranger. In our letter to you of December 29, 1958, we enclosed a copy of the statement which the Department of the Interior prepared in reply to this program. Another copy is enclosed herewith for your information. It is our intention, within the limits of our funds and taking into consideration other resources available to Indians, to meet the legitimate needs for assistance of needy Indians on reservations. We recognize also that there are many needs which are not met through an assistance program. Bureau programs for education, vocational training, and development of opportunities for employment attempt to meet some of these needs. There are other complex problems to be considered in meeting the needs of Indians which involve personal attitudes as well as material resources, and we do not claim to have definite answers for all of them. We assure you however of the desire and the intent of this Bureau to further the welfare of the Indian people.” 30 As Charles wrote McCormick about his letter from Emmons: “I received a reply from the Indian Bureau to my letter, which accompanied 200 more signatures on our local petition, which was a follow-up on your program. The tone of the letter was rather condescending, and assumed that I knew very little about this Indian business. At the same time they sent me two copies of their reply to The American Stranger. I am sure that you are familiar with this “reply,” which I think is absurd. In this official reply the
393 Bureau contends that Hill 57 serves as a labor pool for Great Falls. Actually only eight of 55 family heads on the Hill work in Great Falls as construction workers. the majority of these people are casual farm workers and have always been casual farm workers. Some of these families went as far as Eastern Washington last summer, to work in the potato fields. The Indian Bureau reveals its ignorance of the situation when it claims that the Hill 57 people form a labor pool for Great Falls.” “Further, the Bureau reply to your telecast says that some of the people on Hill 57 are Canadians, and some have never lived on a reservation. Right now five out of the more than 50 families on Hill 57 are Canadian subjects. Now whether any of the people on Hill 57 have or have not lived on reservations is not the point at issue. The present policy of the Indian Bureau favors urbanization as the chief solution for Indian problems. For 65 years Hill 57 has been an experiment in Indian urbanization. The process has been a failure for the majority of the people. That failure is the real point at issue. We will continue to inform you of Montana developments.” 31 After the new year, the grassroots efforts began anew. A Friends of Hill 57 circular mailed out in early 1959 was titled: “GREAT FALLS ENDORSES THE AMERICAN STRANGER AND U.S. SENATORS RESPOND!!!” and began, “During December, 1958, the Friends of Hill 57 conducted a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the truth in the Kaleidoscope documentary about Montana Indians. The Junior “Friends” addressed the envelopes. . . . Here were some recurring phrases in the letters to the Senators”: When Congress convenes you will be hearing about Kaleidoscope’s telecast called The American Stranger. It concerns Montana and how the Indians are becoming wandering strangers because of termination
394 policy. We want you to know that the people of Montana are saying about McCormick’s story, “It is all true.” The circular also reprinted the replies of some of the Senators, including these: Senator Joseph S. Clark, Pennsylvania: “I. . . assure you that I share your deep concern about the plight of American Indians. The area redevelopment legislation which I sponsored in the last session of Congress and which was vetoed by President Eisenhower would, among other things, have made possible technical and economic assistance programs for Indians. . . . While it may not be accurate to blame all that is wrong with our Indian policies on the Eisenhower Administration, there is no doubt that since 1952 there have been great setbacks in this field. . . . Meanwhile, I am sending your letter on to the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee for reference when they schedule action on legislation to help Indians. You may count on my active support of worthwhile proposals.” Senator Thomas H. Kuchel, California: “As a member of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, I have an opportunity to study all legislation affecting Indian Affairs and I am, moreover, sincerely interested in promoting their welfare. I have received a number of letters from others concerning the Kaleidoscope presentation and have as a result obtained a statement from Department of Interior with reference to this program. . . . After you have had an opportunity to study the Department’s presentation, I would be pleased to have your further comments in order that I may present them to the Committee.” Myer Feldman, Legislative Assistant to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts: “I think I can assure you that this problem in one in which the Senator is very much interested and feels, as you do, that we have an obligation to improve the level of life which many Indians have and a real responsibility in developing programs which will enlarge the welfare opportunities and protect the personal rights of American Indians.” Senator John Carroll, Colorado: “Thank you for your letter. . . . Yes, I am familiar with this [television] program and I know that the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee is greatly interested in this study. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your letter to the Committee.” 32
395 In early January, the tragic deaths of the three Running Rabbit children stunned the region, as Gubatayao wrote to McCormick: The most recent news item which has been headlined throughout this area is the death of the three Running Rabbit children on the Blackfeet Reservation. They are cousins of the Running Rabbit children at the Columbus Hospital. One of these children you will remember arrived at the hospital with Polio and weighed in at seven pounds at the age of nine months . . . a rather severe case of malnutrition it would seem. Now his three cousins have died and no one seems to know the cause of death. Enclosed is a copy of the Great Falls Leader with the story. The weather report from the Tribune gives a temperature of -25 for Cut Bank. It also adds: "The weatherman, however, holds out some hope for moderating temperatures later in the week. Probably Wednesday, but not before." Yesterday the news broadcasts continually reported the story essentially as given in the Leader. I must have heard it at least five times during the day. . . . Iliff McKay is trying to get the facts of the story complete. His first comment was, "We'll have to shore up the welfare." He also reports the temperature went to -32 in some areas. The reports state that the mother of the children is being released from jail to bury her children. She was in for child neglect on a thirty-one day sentence. We wonder how many days Glenn Emmons should get. The story does not make clear whether the children were living on the reservation. If they did then the Federal Government is very much involved. We hope that whatever the facts may be a complete investigation of the incident is made by all concerned and that it does not fade away as merely a once-noted headline story. Mr. Charles has written to the Editor of the Glacier Reporter and asked him to send you some issues that back you up in your TV story. Perhaps you have them already. He will write to you later himself. 33 Theodore Last Star, one of the elders who spoke his native language in the film, sent McCormick a telegraph saying, “They starve like I told you on the television that we sure hard up.” For Last Star, the deaths were yet another piece of evidence in the
396 Blackfeet’s case against the government. McCormick replied, “Dear Chief, I deeply appreciate your telegram about the Running Rabbit Children but I am distressed to see you are back in the hospital. I certainly hope you get well quickly--if you are sick--and that I can see you again sometime. I enjoyed immensely talking to you and you made a great contribution to our television program.” 34 Early in 1959, Sister Providencia received a letter from M.C. Betwee of the Michigan District of Kiwanis International, stating that McCormick and Meyers of NBC had referred him to her. He requested: “I would appreciate any corroborating information as well as suggestions for action that such an organization as Kiwanis International might take to help redress what appears to be an appalling situation.” Sister Providencia decided to use this opportunity to draft her most definitive overview on the issue in her letter to Betwee. Her letter is full of evidence to support local truths: testimony, examples and statistics: “It was an honor to receive your request for any corroborating information to that given by Robert McCormick on Kaleidoscope's telecast, The American Stranger. The National Broadcasting Company probably referred you to this city because Great Falls was headquarters for the program's production last October. Mr. McCormick and others of the production crew must have told the television personnel in New York that our city was a crossroads for Indian migration, and that the Columbus Hospital which appears in the film was a front-line station in more ways than one for the Indians as they struggled for survival.” “I heard from friends during July that a television newscaster was making a tour of the reservations throughout the West. Then I learned that Mr. McCormick intended
397 to do a documentary on Flathead and Blackfeet and Menominee because of contrasting resources and termination history. It was said that he was doing his customary thorough job of research.” “My relations are not direct with the hospital although I live next door to it at the College of Great Falls where I teach anthropology among other subjects. Consequently, I know many Indian people. It happens that our students at the College of Great Falls helped to discover Hill 57, the city's Indian fringe area, for the city and for Montana. Mr. McCormick discovered it for the nation on the telecast. In spite of common opinion that the Hill colonies are atypical, it may be stated that the students have done amateur research among a comparable number of families in almost as much misery in five other Montana cities. Hill 57 is a symbol and a warning. It is also a state of mind among Indians who are separated from their lands.” “As for conditions among the tribes on Indian-owned, trust land, I know four of the seven reservations in Montana first hand: Flathead, Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, and Rocky Boy's Reservation. Years of missionary travels have taken me to reservations in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. NBC could have produced The American Stranger in any one of these states where there are allotted reservations. But only very recently has the disorganization been evident to such a degree as in Montana among these other tribes. It is interesting to place this statement against Senator Murray's newest report of Indian land sales--that one million acres of the two million acres of lands sold in the whole United States were processed for Montana reservations.” “Television shouted the things that we have been whispering with our weak voices from Montana since 1955. Do you remember Disney's Lilliputian watchman
398 spinning himself dizzy with "THERE'S A GIANT ON THE BEACH"? Our giant was the monstrous distress of the Indians undergoing Federal emancipation.” “People of Great Falls have produced at least five research studies on the loss of lands and services. Enclosed is a bibliographical sheet with a list of these studies as well as the names of recent publications which will contain confirmation of many general and specific statements made by Mr. McCormick and others during the program. You might send to the Glacier Reporter, Browning, Montana, for the December issues of its weekly newspaper. The December 18 issue, in particular, carries an editorial which confirms what I call ‘the Grand Canyon of consumer needs’ among 3000 Blackfeet Indians. The Christmas per capita of $25.00 from tribal oil leases was a pitiful token. “ ”In spite of local protests, of local Indian Agency reports about need, the impasse remains unchanged at the Washington level. Chief among people of Great Falls who have foreseen the developments on the reservations and have written to Washington, D. C. about them for the past three years are the following: Mr. James Flaherty, President of the Great Falls Paper Company and former President of the Montana Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Catherine Nutterville, former head of the State Mental Health Clinic in this city; Miss Dorothy Bohn, Community Council Board Member; Mr. Richard Charles, Secretary of the Friends of Hill 57, a philanthropic group of private citizens of Great Falls. This group contains many members of the Business and Professional Women's Club of the city, and many professional men.” “There has been constant effort this past summer to call attention to the consequences of Government withdrawal of services to Indians and of safeguards to
399 land loss. The students of a class in ‘Native Cultures of North America’ who took field trips to the reservations afterward collected signatures for a petition to Commissioner Emmons on behalf of the Blackfeet who were exposed to a polio epidemic. The argument was that resistance was low because over 2,000 Indians had been cut off from general assistance in March. Jobs were few for the students. They understood support difficulties for the parents and the inadequacy of the surplus food program. “ ”Moreover, the local Montanans wanted to see a halt to land sales, not only because they were ashamed of the pressures that were forcing the Indians to sell for food, but because of reasons important to the eventual assimilation of these people. Out West an Indian without land is nothing. The old-time chiefs made sure that the young tribesmen were impressed with this lesson, and I think that it carried over to the white man who lived in Indian country. Even today a landless Indian has no status, no place, no future.” “The value of land as economic ballast is quite evident, is it not? Whether the ownership is in trust to the allotted or whether the share is held for tribal lands, there is leverage toward self-support, toward development and self-confidence. Far more than the economic symbol, it remains a sine qua non for acceptance. The Westerner is so constituted that the matter of land ownership makes or breaks an Indian in his eyes socially, politically, and legally--as indeed it does.” “The NBC telecast team saw these values instinctively after talking with people not only on the reservations but in the towns of Montana. For reasons such as these they made much of the scenes on Hill 57, the refuge of the disinherited. More than the misery of slums caused them to make the music background funereal.”
400 “Permit me to list some of my contacts with the Indian question during the past few days to illustrate how wide and how deep is the distress of which The American Stranger skimmed only the surface, as one of our professors remarked after he had viewed the program.” Sister Providencia’s letter continued with a list: “1. Some of the Friends of Hill 57 took me out there to the Hill to look in on some new arrivals reported to be living in a cabin with a dirt floor. It was 26 below zero that morning. Three babies under five years of age were on the bed. Three adults were stirring around with some little food that the Friends had brought them, and some little wood that the other Indians were sharing with them for fuel. They were Canadians blown in with the blizzard of December from fields farther north where they were working at a farm job very familiar to the Indians of the Plains in this age, called 'picking rocks.’ I discovered twenty visitors in all on the Hill, most of them from the Canadian Indian reserves near North Battleford. This makes them neighbors to you in Michigan, Mr. Betwee. They said they had come almost a thousand miles to pick rocks in Montana because they can get $5.00 an acre from farmers here while the price is 50¢ to a dollar in Canada. Moreover, Canada also has a termination policy which makes the times very hard on the reserves.” “When I discussed the situation with our Welfare Department, the director said they had made no contact for help, [and said] ‘And all our own people on Hill 57 starve because they share with them.’ All this is pertinent to The American Stranger, and the plight of local agencies as well as local Indian families. Jobs are fewer for our own native people in agriculture partly because of this competition from the North, at lower wages than formerly. I told the welfare worker for Hill 57, ‘The Interior Department has
401 published its reactions to the Kaleidoscope program in a 30 page report. It asserts that Great Falls uses the Hill for a labor pool.’ She replied, ‘I wish that it did.’” “2. Upon our return to the hospital where we hoped to get clothes from the storerooms of the Ladies of Charity for the migrants, I met Indians from Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. They said, ‘Things are a little better because of the per capita payment from the oil leases, but the welfare for the winter won't start until January. It will be $6.00 every two weeks for a single person and $15.00 every two weeks if there is more than five kids in a family. Right now we have only the surplus food that lasts two weeks out of the month.’” “3. The ambulance driver from the reservation said, ‘The $25.00 oil payment per capita sure helped a lot. The kids I used to see running around my place in thin summer jackets now have warm ones.’” “4. We were still in the clothes cupboard when a telephone call came from a local Indian construction worker whose aunt was in the city for the holidays. He said, ‘The first cash she has seen since March was the $25.00 per capita. She did not have enough for clothes. Her money is all tied up in the cattle since her husband died. You know the Bureau would not let the Tribal Council borrow the money to make the payment for Christmas before all the records were completed. Each one of us had to give $5.00 out of the $25.00 as interest to the store for the Tribe's credit slip. The bank charged $2.50. Some white men went into town and bought those credit orders from the Indians for $10.00. If the Tribe had been able to pay the interest it would not have hit some of those poor people so hard. I can name you five families at Heart Butte that were like my aunt--no cash since March. No work.’”
402 “5. A recent letter from a Councilman on the Fort Belknap Reservation where the family assistance program in winter is carried by the Indian Bureau, and not by the Tribe, as on Blackfeet and Flathead Reservations: ‘Do you know any way we could get the Bureau to increase the General Assistance funds for those reservations that are not allowed to take part in the Farm Surplus program? Such as Ft. Belknap and Rocky Boy.’” “6. A phone call from a Rocky Boy's Reservation mother: ‘I have a list of the families that have been cut from 20-30% on their welfare this winter. Do you think there is somebody in the Falls that could help us get it back? Things are very rough. None of the young people over sixteen get counted in because they are employable. A family of six gets $52.00 every two weeks.’" “7. A missionary called from that vicinity who said that he had been taking a religious census on the reservation and was simply appalled. He was trying to arrange to have a photographer come with him to the miserable homes.” “8. A clipping from a Minot, North Dakota paper of Christmas week was brought by a local Chippewa Indian: ‘A large delegation of Turtle Mountain Indians mobbed the Indian Agency Office in Belcourt today . . . claiming starvation conditions existed on the reservation.’ The date was Christmas week, The Rolla Star: ‘Supt. H. P. Mittelhotz told the group that he had been informed last Thursday that food grants would be brought up to State Welfare standards in January, also February and March.’" “9. From the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in Idaho: ‘I think that we will get to use some of our Claims money for land purchase from our members who want to sell. We
403 will have to do something about welfare, too. This has been a bad winter and our tribal funds for relief are almost gone.’" “There you have five reservations heard from in three states, Mr. Betwee. It just happens that all this evidence piled up within two weeks to prove that the tribes are carrying insupportable burdens and that the people's sufferings are extreme. . . . What to do? Change the withdrawal directives, particularly those of April, 1956, under which the Bureau personnel must operate, to see that the Tribes take over the services formerly supplied by the Bureau. According to Commissioner Emmons' directives, in his effort to follow the policy laid down by Congress in House Concurrent Res. 108 (1953), if the Tribes have not the tribal funds to assume these responsibilities, the Bureau field personnel are to give their first attention to arranging that the States, or the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, or the Department of Agriculture, assume the responsibility for services to Indians. Such transfers to date have tended to fragment service and hammer away at bureaucratic morale. Accordingly, it is inevitable that neither economy nor efficiency be served. Widening vacuums have developed because of legal entanglements, or administrators are facing the problems with wholly inadequate avenues of supply.” “What is indicated is a 1959 policy directive from Congress so that Bureau of Indian Affairs may return to the fulfillment of the trusteeship over lands resources, and people, not the elimination of them through ‘programing’ and a laissez-faire philosophy. One of the finest illustrations of what Indian country citizens mean by this fulfillment was recently given on the Crow Reservation. The Agency Superintendent, Mr. Clyde Hobbs, released to the Great Falls Tribune for December 18, 1958, his
404 regulations on the distribution of $1,250,000 to the Crow Tribe from the Yellowtail Dam payments. His realistic safeguards bear out Mr. McCormick's statement about the ease with which Indians fall victims to sales pressures. The regulations were a masterpiece of administrative understanding and foresight and were commended widely in Montana.” “Here is some work cut out for you, Mr. Betwee: Promote letters to Congress from your organization's membership, for it is Congress that has plenary power to assure the survival of the Indians.” “One final testimony from an Indian who traveled widely on the Plains last summer to contact his people about their Treaty Claims case: ‘If they holler any more about the truth of the pictures they saw with their own eyes, I am going out and take some worse than those. McCormick did not show the worst conditions. He went right down the middle.’ Thank you very much, sir, for your interest. I hope that you will permit the National Broadcasting Company to use this letter, especially if it will help to win the Peabody Award for Mr. McCormick. I hope that it will give both you and NBC enough busy work with the bibliography so that I can go back to Hill 57 and talk the Canadian Indians into applying for transportation back home. What disturbs me most about the Indian strangers of the 1950's is this: They won't ask.” “For a person with your social work background, this fact should take some of the exaggeration out of the word ‘survival’ and put real sting into it. The reluctance is understandable. I myself do not know how to answer the question, ‘To whom shall they go?’" 35
405 Sister Providencia enthusiastically sent a copy of her letter, which in fact represented the views of the entire Great Falls activist community, to McCormick. It was signed “Joyfully yours, Sister”: It took all this time to complete this job and get complete clearance on it, so do as you please. Wouldn't it be nice to get some copies to send out--a marvelous referral today from a pharmaceutical company in L.A. to supply vitamins, thanks to NBC! Now you may have your vengeance. I have had my say and simply happy to die to get it said--and cleared. The film has been shown at Heart Butte--agency personnel--Browning. A call from the state Legislature! Iliff so proud to take it. He is in great spirits.36 In a letter to Montana State Representative Harold 0. Gunderson of Cascade County, Charles reported upon legislative action about the issues raised in the film: We were informed that the State Legislature Entertainment committee has secured a copy of The American Stranger, NBC telecast about Montana and will show it to the Members on Thursday. In case there is some advantage to Montana in the suggestion, will you and your associates from Cascade County kindly look at these ideas for a Memorial to Congress on the subject of Federal responsibility to the Indian? We know that there will be real advantages to the Indians and to our county in particular if Montana action would stimulate the Congress. Any action, even a letter or two from the legislators personally, would help Robert McCormick win the Peabody award, the TV Oscar. We think he deserves that amount of recognition from Montana people of your stature and understanding. Charles added: The enclosed Suggestion for a memorial tries to strike a common note of agreement and plain common sense. It would not be good if the State action were to imply an unwillingness to cope with the Indian needs
406 rather than what is the real case--sheer inability from an economic standpoint.
Enclosed in the Gunderson letter was the Great Falls group’s “Suggestion for a Memorial to Congress”: WHEREAS, Montana is a State with the fourth largest Indian population in the United States; WHEREAS, Montana ranks sixth from the lowest in total population; WHEREAS, the telecast documentary, The American Stranger, vividly depicts the problems of Indian survival and adjustment which have existed from pioneer days not a generation passed away; WHEREAS, the Federal Government through its present policy of termination, embodied in H. Con. Res. 108 of the 83d Congress seeks to make Montana alone responsible for the heavy solution of the Indian problems, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the Congress revise the present Indian policy so as to re-affirm the original responsibility recognized by all the states as a national obligation. 38 During January, efforts to nominate McCormick, NBC and The American Stranger for a Peabody Award were spearheaded by the NCAI, and documentation in the form of letters of support were gathered from all concerned. Sister Providencia apparently used her letter to Betwee as her letter of support. She wrote to McCormick’s supervisor, NBC News Director Joe Meyers, in mid-January: You think you have your troubles! But what about me? Here I am trying to do all I can from the wilderness to promote the Peabody Award for Robert McCormick and your American Stranger and you come along with your delightful chores for the purposeful inquirers. Then I do a big long job like the enclosed for them and the typist does not proofread, and I am worrying about the deadline for the testimonials and then I lose an important letter like the one from the Los Angeles drug manufacturer who wanted to give high-protein capsules for the little "strangers." Will you be kind enough to rush me the following: 1) the address of the California philanthropist; 2) the deadline date for the testimonials. I have
407 many letters here which I would like to add to the ones that the Judges will consider. About the show, she added: It is strange that from the beginning of the planning for the Kaleidoscope Indian show I have felt that it would win the TV Oscar. The material was so complex, so explosive, and Indian cooperation so uncertain that only a top-quality production team could make anything out of the subject. In a way I am sorry that the judges are not westerners, for although someone foreign to the American Indian scene may ably judge the program's artistic, dramatic, and human-interest elements, such a person could scarcely appreciate the difficulties of securing and organizing the material. I shudder to think how often Robert McCormick must put into your productions such an amount of research, tension, blood and tears, as it were . . . for an hour-long program. If it happens very often then he is not long for this world. The Sister also told the NBC executive about the film’s role in state politics: “I have not finished recounting to you my woes. On Monday last, the librarian for the State Legislature phoned me from the capitol that she had secured the film copy of The American Stranger which your office sent out to the Blackfeet Reservation for Jolene Comes-At-Night and the other little Heart Butte children in the show. Would I please come to the Capitol and introduce the documentary to the legislators? ‘Thank you’ said I; ‘NBC keeps me busy at home answering their inquiries about the show. You may use one of our college graduates who is a clerk over there. He knows a great deal about the Indian question’”: The next evening the college man phones. “The show is its own introduction. The Legislators are all interested and will see it Thursday evening. All but two voted to return in the evening for the showing. Will you whip up a memorial (words to that effect), for some Cascade County representative to introduce to the Legislature on Friday? The show is magnificent. It might as well start something here."
408 Sister Providencia continued: “The enclosed is a product of thought from college seniors who are knowing about the solutions in the hands of Congress, and from the discussion of the Friends of Hill 57. If no action is forthcoming from the Montana State Legislature, at least you will know that the Kaleidoscope product stimulated this amount of activity among the ordinary citizenry of Montana”: The Friends of Hill 57 still have a great deal of unreported reaction for you. . . all about the petition to Commissioner Emmons which now has nearly 900 names, including many from Chicago and Boston. A reply came from an Acting Commissioner to the effect that there are many other aspects to the Indian question than general assistance (subject of the petition), disregarding the rather important issue that unless food of more quantity and substance reaches the Northwest Indian population in the immediate future, there will be no question for lack of Indians. Apropos of the clothing, besought of the Agriculture Department by Mr. Swig and likewise not forthcoming, Max Gubatayao says, ‘Everybody wants to make first-class citizens out of the Indians. It will never happen to Indians in second-hand clothes.’ The data on the petition has not been collected as a tribute to The American Stranger because there are so many emergencies of late on Hill 57 for the ‘Friends’ to meet. “Please disregard my informal tone, Mr. Meyer, “ Sister Providencia continued. “It too is a western tradition, and a strongly Indian one. They have taught many of us to endure tensions and tragedy over long periods of time by laughing a bit. I do appreciate the honor of your referrals. Whenever Mr. McCormick gives the word, I should like to be free to distribute this corroboration letter to the inquirers. Will you let me know whenever I am free to do so?” 39 In late January, McCormick sent an informal yet personally revealing letter to Sister Providencia: “This letter won't be pretty because I am typing it myself and years of hack writing have pretty well destroyed whatever skill I ever had with this machine. But I hope it will be somewhat informative. I must start with a deep apology for not
409 having written extensively sooner, but we have been turning out one special show right after another--and in between times I've been out to Hawaii to work up a statehood show, and have had to answer more and more letters on The American Stranger”: The only letters I felt were wasted effort were those I had to compile in reply to the Interior Department and the Indian Bureau. They were such massive collections of niggling details, carpings and distortions that they were exceedingly difficult to answer. McCormick revealed something of the internal NBC response to the controversy: Just for your information, NBC's President Kintner has written Interior a magnificent letter, polite but firm, supporting me and the story completely; he has answered two letters from Goldwater similarly. It's very heartening. As a matter of fact it marks what could be the start of an entirely new era in this business. About the expected Congressional hearings: I don't yet know what the Senate and House committees intend to do, if anything. The first few weeks of a Congressional session are, of course, so clogged with organizational work, and political maneuverings, that the real work rarely starts for at least a month and a half. The Senate committee still says it will show the film in the Senate Caucus Room, and we are keeping one kinescope available at all times for their use. But so far nothing specific. The material I have received from you and Charles and Gubatayao has been invaluable. Some of it I show my office, to buck them up, and the rest I keep for my war arsenal which I hope to never use. Your letter to Mr. Betwee was, of course, particularly important. As also was Iliff McKay's superb answer to the Indian Bureau's canned reply to letters it received. The letter was dated December 9, in case you are confused about which one I mean. I am taking various notes from you and Max and Dick in order here--which is why this letter seems to ramble so. I come now to one that especially bothers me. I got a lovely note from your mother; I answered it as quickly as I could, but my letter was returned. I am sending it to you in the hope that you can forward it to her. I much wanted to make sure she got it. McCormick shared some of his the feedback he had received:
410 You perhaps will be interested to know that all the Indian lawyers with whom I've talked have completely supported the program, with one exception; he didn't really disapprove, but his enthusiasm was tempered somewhat; I was told later that he was a mite upset because he found it impossible to take credit for any part of the program, hence thought perhaps he'd better find at least a little something wrong with it. It was an inconsequential bubble on an otherwise tranquil situation, however, so did not bother any of us unduly. The journalist also candidly shared his own frustration and anger: I have been repeatedly tempted to answer the Interior Department and the Bureau in intemperate even angry language; at times it's been a little hard to put up with the cheap campaign to discredit the show and to jinx the Indians' efforts to help themselves. But I know that the proper and smart thing for me to do is to be quiet, for the moment; I shouldn't do anything more until I'm asked by some irresistible authority; NBC has spoken its piece, it has not been gainsaid, because it can't be. And there it should rest. If I do anything untoward now, it might lend substance to the ridiculous contention that I am fighting for prejudiced interests rather than for a good story, and for a hitherto muzzled group of people. “Anyhow,” McCormick said, “I'm glad we got things stirred up. And strangely enough, running through all the letters from the Interior Department there was, it seemed to me, a deep resentment against the idea of letting the Indians have the access to information media that the Department and Bureau of course accept as a routine right. In one of the replies I wrote to one of the squawks--I couldn't understand why the chairman of a large and important Indian tribe wasn't just as much entitled to express his views as was any mayor or governor. We might disagree with what they said; we might even be able to prove what they said was wrong; but they still had a perfect right to say it, even though they were Indians.”
411 In conclusion, McCormick wrote Sister Providencia,”I wish you would show this letter to Gubatayao and Dick Charles and Iliff perhaps, or anyone else who is close to this whole thing. I know I won't get time to write them all, as much as I'd like to. Perhaps some day I will be able to get permission to release copies of the letters Mr. Kintner sent to the Department and to Senator Goldwater--but except for them, I think I have filled you in, at least roughly, on most everything of any import that's happened in the past few weeks. And please give my very best to all your friends who helped with the program, and to the nice people at the hospital who somehow seemed to sense that we were trying to do something worthwhile though we seemed to go about it with all the gentle finesse of Minnesota lumberjacks. As for you, my good Sister Buckskin, you are one of a kind.” 40 On January 29, the ever-busy Sister Providencia got around to getting her New Year’s circular in the mail to “all neglected relatives, friends, gift-giving strangers, and inquirers re: Happy New Years! A giving of thanks. A suggestion or two.” The Church season for Christmas closes only February second, so I shall be very liturgical and nonchalant about this breezy greetings and thank-you and apology for my neglect. In the era, B. K.--Before Kaleidoscope, the proverbial shoe box full of Christmas cards would have had attention before this, but as it is I have been caught in the whirlpool of reaction to the program of November 16 about Great Falls and Montana reservations, and "The Lady is Not for Breathing." For my students of far away, you must know that the program was called The American Stranger, narrated by Robert McCormick of the NBC-TV news staff in Washington, D. C. It has changed the picture for many Montanans, both Indian and non-Indian. The true native feels less a stranger and the others now view themselves as strange Americans who should know so little about their neighbors and their survival problems. She continued:
412 A copy of the telecast was kindly lent by the NBC office in New York. K. W. Bergen is taking it with him next week on a tour of many schools. When he returns it, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Troy of Great Falls will accept requests for reservations. Mr. Troy has a projector and will gladly show the film to private groups or accept requests for mailing about the State. All the Browning area seems to have viewed the copy. There was a special showing to the State Legislature. The Sister’s circular continued with a prayer request and testimonial: Here is a request [to those] who wish to join us in an onslaught of prayers for the successful passage of a net policy resolution in the U.S. Congress--Senator Murray is preparing for its presentation. You know, the students said prayers every day on Hill 57 during the past Summer school when we took field trips out there. Then Robert McCormick came to visit the college, and to talk about plans for the telecast. We concentrated on another novena for August 15th to Our Lady of the Sun. Then a great forest fire broke out in Glacier Park which gave work to 400 starving families. Then we "storms novenaed" for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, and the payments came in for two of the tribes, from their own resources. To date the Bureau has done nothing to relieve the distress situations in Montana and the Dakotas. 41 She also composed another letter to LaFarge, to accompany the circular: Enclosed is a little effort to push your objectives in regard to The American Stranger. I do not forget that it was your association's publications which first drew the attention of Robert McCormick the Indians' distress in this decade. . . . Are you making plans to have Robert McCormick tell the Interior Committees about what he saw on the Indian reservations? I think it is important they know that he traveled throughout the West last summer and everywhere made the same observations about the need for a change of policy. Yesterday I heard from town that Senator Murray has secured the co-sponsorship of Senator Kuchel for the new Res. 3. Everything points to a very careful structuring of the Big Push and I have every confidence that your work will see fruition this session. 42 One of Sister Providencia’s College of Great Falls colleagues and fellow community activists,Dr. Catherine Nutterville, in early February drew up a letter to McCormick to serve as documentation for the Peabody Award nomination:
413 I viewed the original showing of your telecast, The American Stranger. I wish to thank you and congratulate you-- to thank you for the insight you possess that made it possible for you to bring this message so forcefully before us and to congratulate you for the courage that it took to face this ugly truth. Nutterville began with a statement on white guilt: I have long said that our bitter treatment of our minorities is our inherited and accumulated guilt. We took the land from the Indians--and paradoxically, set up a democratic society and left the Indian out of it (like the Greeks who left their slaves out of their "democracy"). We captured and bought slaves in Africa and brought them to America, and when the time came to release them from slavery we did not accept them as people! And sadly we have not accepted them. She continued with an historical overview of the local efforts at activism: Montana in these last few years has become more aware of the plight of the Indians, thanks first of all to the work of your Sister Buckskin--Sister Providencia. I am happy to have first been a critical but sympathetic observer and then to have been able to help her slightly in this movement. I moderated the panel at the first meeting sponsored by the Cascade County Community Council several years ago when we brought together the Indian Bureau personnel and the Indian leaders in an attempt to learn the "policy" of the Bureau and the meaning of the so-called termination legislation (S. 2750 and H. R. 7319 of 83rd Cong., 1954). The court room in which this meeting was held was filled to capacity, Indians and whites in about equal numbers. More lately I joined others ln the Great Falls area in sending a covering letter to Commissioner Glenn Emmons for the hundreds of petitions sent into Washington during December asking for direct assistance to the tribes from the Bureau. I felt that the replies of the Bureau both to Mr. Charles and to Senator Mike Mansfield were unsatisfactory. Nutterville urged McCormick to testify at Congressional hearings: I feel lt very important that you should appear before the Senate Interior Committee when Senator Murray's new policy resolution is being debated. I understand that protocol suggests that you volunteer to appear. I believe I know your feelings in this matter. I too would be very reluctant ln similar circumstances. However, I am suggesting to Sister Providencia that she influence the Association on American Indian Affairs personnel to request that you appear before the Committee. I hope in this way all the needs of "protocol" will be served.
414 She continued with a list of questions to which McCormick might attend, based upon the Interior Department’s “Statement”: “As to the Interior Department's rebuttal to the arguments of the telecast, I have some questions which I am including here which you may want to put before the Department and/or the Committee. Please use them or not as you see fit”: On page 3 the report states that the Bureau of Indian Affairs "Started five years ago to emphasize three main objectives: (1) Better health, (2) Better Education, and (3) Better opportunities for making an adequate living." 1. Isn't this admitting very late recognition of our responsibilities to these people whom we began to exploit when we whites first came to these shores? 2. Have we not long claimed for all Americans the extended privileges of "better health"? 3. Can "better health" be assured in such conditions as those you saw on the reservations or on Hill 57? (It is around zero here this morning. Did the Indians on the Hill have fuel for their fires or hot breakfasts for their stomachs? Another January day like this a year or so ago I took Sister Providencia in my little Ford over to Graham & Ross and spent $10.00 for enough Pronto logs to keep two or three families from freezing in their little shacks. How many others needed Pronto logs or are now needing them today?) 4. How well can children be "educated" who are going to school as you showed them for the one meal (from surplus foods) that they will have for the day? (I must add this: I have been trained to believe that an "agency"--school, health service, etc.--should have one chief function. The school should "educate", the health service should care for the health of the group. Kaleidoscope shows the school doing both!) 5. What assurance is there that the children of Hill 57 will ever have anything better than they have had all these years since wardship for them is to so large an extent repudiated? 6. Without these services, enhanced and enlarged, what promise is there for the off-reservation Indian?
415 7. Does the fact that slums exist in (page 6) New York, Chicago, etc. justify the creation of slums (or oven their continued existence if they have already been spawned) on Indian reservations or in Great Falls, a city with little "slum" problem? 8. Does not the fact that few Indian children ever reach the High Schools in Great Falls and fewer ever complete a four-year course assure these Indian children of Bureau of Indian Affairs five-year-old third objective (better opportunities)? 9. Is this not the same callousness relative to education, health and opportunity that is evidenced in the closing of schools to Negro children in the South? 43 Nutterville’s letter closed with another appeal to McCormick to testify before Congress. That same week, McCormick received this letter from Max Gubatayao about a kindred spirit working in Ohio to develop widespread political support for the improvement of American Indian socioeconomic conditions: What do you think of this? This is a letter from the woman in Cleveland who was reported in the St. Jude magazine by Sister in her bibliography. Some attainment--69,000 names to Commissioner Emmons for general assistance purposes from 39 States. These women! I have written to ask her for his replies and I will forward them to you.[italics added] Gubatayao continued, “We are working hard on the Department ‘reply’, and we have some new ammunition from the House Committee report on Indian welfare and voting. . . . Will try to digest the facts for you which relate to the "reply", if this will help. . . .” Attached to Gubatayao’s letter was he had received from Rosemary Macklem of the American Indian Mission Center in Cleveland, Ohio: I received your letter which you mailed to St. Jude, via the Trappist. Yes, I have been doing this work for over 5 years now. I started a petition to get help in the way of better housing, water, medicines and opportunity to a better income--I have over 39 states in--with over 69,000
416 names--these were all sent to President Eisenhower--and he in turn gave it to the Indian Affairs. Glen Emmons is the one who acknowledges the receipt of them. So you can see that I have been doing this for quite some time. I usually send about 3 tons of clothing each time--and about 3 times a year. Also, I take a load down with me in the summer. I have given the names of the three schools you sent me--to a Holy Name school--and they will send you clothing soon. Please feel free to write to me any time. 44 Meanwhile, the Great Falls group was hard at work on their development of a formal rebuttal to the Interior Department Statement which was itself a rebuttal of the cliams made in the television documentary. Charles wrote to McCormick the second week of February, 1959: We are continuing to work on the reply to the Indian Bureau's 31-page criticism of The American Stranger. I imagine that we will have it finished, and copies sent to you before Congress takes up Resolution 3--Murray's resolution reversing termination. I have made a summary of the Bureau's 31 pages--reducing it to 6 pages. Sister Providencia thinks you will find it helpful. Charles’ letter continued: During the past two weeks we have all been doing some outside reading, to wit: publications of the house and senate committees on Insular and Interior Affairs. I have been struck with the appearance of certain testimony therein. I notice that several Indian Bureau officials have made statements over the past three years indicating that the Indians are trading land for food. Tonight I am going to start making a sort of compilation and index of reference of all these statements. In January 1958, on the Blackfeet reservation, I was told by several tribal members that they were selling the land because they're hungry. In the past the Indian Bureau has tended to scoff at that argument. Charles reported on conditions among the Blackfeet: Friday the 6th a blizzard blew into the state. This was the very day that Blackfeet tribal members were to receive their per capita on the tribe's earnings. Four carloads of people coming in for that purpose were stranded, and the schools were dismissed. One school bus was snowbound for three hours. The roads are clear now and there have been no casualties. Thank God! The county coroner has given as cause
417 of death of three little Blackfeet girls (which we've told you of) as carbon monoxide. The Indians still say it's starvation. That is the news. We'll keep you informed, and send you our replies to the Bureau. 45 The Friends of Hill 57 began soliciiting statements and feedback from local community leaders to add to their arsenal as they prepared for what they planned as a massive discursive attack on the Interior Department’s “Statement.” The following exchange is between Gubatayao and a Great Falls City Council member, Mrs. John Wilson Hall. Gubatayao asked Hall for her help: The Friends of Hill 57 are in the process of preparing a reply to the Department of the Interior’s 30-page response to The American Stranger television program. . . . We should like to ask if you care to list any of the programs you have carried out or are working on to the benefit of our Hill 57 residents. Your cooperation would help us very much in making a factual comment on the Indian situation in Montana. We hope to show that we are doing our part toward the alleviation of this so-called strictly local problem. the Bureau’s implication appears to be that we are not doing anything. Hall replied: Taking no credit personally as all of these things resulted from joint efforts of many people I shall list the projects I know of to help the people of “Hill 57"--always having in mind the fact that they are outside the city limits. The water line to insure pure water was put in with contractors and labor and city officials cooperating. Firewood was hauled to the nearest city park by our Park Department truck for the Indians to pick up free of charge. A group of citizens including labor leaders, young Democrats and I--plus Friends of Hill 57--worked from the Governors Office on down to get our County to accept the Surplus Food Program for the needy. It was passed by our County Commissioners--but never used. Great Falls City Fire Department provides fire protection (completely unofficially). 46 On February 9, 1959, The American Stranger (known as Kaleidoscope in all federal discourses) was the subject of a Hearing before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Prior to the hearing, the
418 kinescope was screened before the committee, upon which Subcommittee Chairman James A. Haley commented, "You can see, as you have viewed this picture Kaleidoscope, that we have problems." Haley then introduced Glenn Emmons, Commissioner of Indian Affairs: "Mr. Commissioner, I am very happy to have you here this morning. Regardless of what other people might say on the TV and radio, I think you are doing a splendid job in the position which you occupy in the Government." Emmons commented, "I think that this film, Kaleidoscope, pretty well demonstrates what we in Government sometimes have to deal with. It seems like it is a very easy job to show the sordid side of things without maybe also showing the advances that have been made. I think that probably sordid headlines sometimes make good news preferences, but there are so many things, some of the greatest advances we make on the Indian business are those things that are not visible." After a brief talk about the advances made by the Bureau, Emmons fielded a few innocuous questions from the Committee, which then voted to have the script of the television documentary, as well as the Interior Department’s "Statement," made part of the hearing's record. It was noted that NBC provided the projector and projectionist for the screening, although Chairman Haley remarked upon the irony that NBC would not give the government equal time in a broadcast. 47 Montana activists and tribal leaders urged NBC to allow McCormick to testify, but network executives were unwilling to see a reporter engage in public debate: "The House Indian Affairs Subcommittee has been most receptive to our program, and most of its members appear to be sympathetic to our point of view. They probably feel, as I do, that there's no need to engage in public dispute with the Interior Department over the matter." 48
419 After Emmons’ testimony, Sister Providencia decided to pull out all the stops and began to solicit support from powerful members of Congress who were not directly involved in Indian Affairs issues. She composed this bold and sassy letter to Senator Lyndon Johnson in mid-February: I have read the article about you in the Post and another in Newsweek recently about the leadership in the House. Many of the House members I met when my father, John Tolan, was one of their colleagues from California. What struck me about your article was the picture of the way you listened to Senator Humphrey. It seemed to me that you were open to ideas of merit. What unsettled me was your grandfather’s fort. She continued: In any case this is it. . . . Will you help the Montana delegation with a surplus of ammunition? Their files are bursting with research and reasons, positions and constituent demands for a change of Indian policy by Congress. . . . The constituents and hundreds of their friends across the country are rebelling against the sight of what the Administration is doing to the natives of our America--what it has done to so many farmers--eliminating them. But the Indian disposal job is a lot messier and more painful to watch. All the initiative is clearly in the Department’s hands, as it cries out that the public and the Congress must be shielded from the sordid aspects of the termination programing [sic]--this is a new word coined for executing H. Con. Res. 108 and written without the double “m”. The Department through Commissioner Emmons said yesterday that it did not believe in this policy, but it keeps on terminating Federal services for Indians as rapidly as it can. Again ofering “ammunition,” Sister Providencia wrote: I have a great deal more surplus ammunition on the consequences of this, such as enough copies of the enclosed for every member of the Interior Committee, but would you believe it? I can’t get the names of the roster from suspect secretaries and sell-out Committee subordinates. One of my Blackfeet names if “Captures Two Horses in Battle,” but I’ll have to turn the war horses loose--two top reporters of the nation--because it will do no good to send our local reply to the Department’s remarks on 30 pages about The American Stranger if our delegation throws these costly tools in the files. . . .
420 There is your grandfather, of course. But even if he did think that the only good Injun was a dead Injun, I know that he respected them, alive or dead. Else why the fort? I am positive that he would not tolerate the hypocrisy of elimination by attrition, or methods that amount to trampling upon infants, wading around in their blood and painting faces with it--in the name of progress and anti-paternalism. 49 A week or so later, she wrote to Oscar Chapman, a political operative in Washington: It was a great relief to receive your letter. In our present mood of discouragement about positive Congressional action in favor of a new policy for Indians, your offer of help was like a last straw. “We” means a few local people of Great Falls . . . working in concert with tribal leaders of many Montana Tribes. . . . One of our most eminent group members, Dr. Catherine Nutterville, who is a State figure, received a letter from Senator Murray stating that when the new Res. 3 is introduced that he will ask Robert McCormick to testify and to show the television picture to the Senate Interior Committee--if the hearings are made public. Sister Providencia continued: Of course we know that Senator Goldwater has written twice in protest to the President of NBC, who in turn defended the telecast and Mr. McCormick. It may be too much to ask that the film be shown before the Committee under such a circumstance. We had quite a news release in local papers about the showing in the House Subcommittee on Interior, but I have not been able to find out if this was on the initiative of the Bureau itself or if the newscaster was present to defend his program. . . . Meanwhile the Department’s “answer” to the telecast is being distributed in every direction . . . McCormick wrote me that a copy of the telecast is in readiness all the time for a call from the Senate. Why don’t you call and ask to see it yourself? Then you may have time to help us with the reply to the “Reply” which we are preparing at the request of Senator Kuchel. . . . 50
421 In efforts to gather as much ammunition as possible for their “Reply to the Reply,” the Great Falls group sent this memorandum to all Montana tribes in late February: Enclosed is the outline which we have made of the Bureau’s statement on The American Stranger. The Friends of Hill 57 are working on a reply to this statement. We have already mailed questionnaires to 43 Great Falls groups so that we can compile information about Great Falls’ relations with Hill 57. Would you like to incorporate a one or two page reply in our answer to the Bureau’s statement? Most of that statement deals with Bureau operations on the Montana reservations. Senator Kuchel of California is waiting for our reply to the Bureau statement, and he will present it to the Interior Committee. We believe this bi-partisan approach will be effective. Senator Murray is sponsoring another version of Resolution 3 at this session. Senator Kuchel has asked a member of the Friends of Hill 57 for comment on the Bureau Statement. 51 Attached to this memo was their outline for their anticipated “Reply to the Reply.” The accompanying explanation read: “This Statement was released in December, 1958. A release from Browning, Montana, in the local Cut Bank Pioneer Press states that the 31-page document from Interior was directed to the Friends of Hill 57, a volunteer citizens organization in Great Falls, Montana, which has opposed the termination of Federal trusteeship over Indian reservations and the tribes. This outline was prepared by the Friends of Hill 57 as a preliminary to the answering of the Statement, especially as regards the two Indian settlements of Hill 57 near the city of Great Falls, Montana.” A more detailed, 5-page outline followed the shorter overview, provided in full below:
~OVER-VIEW OUTLINE~ Part I (pp. 1-3) Introduction of Department’s argument and Bureau Programs: Major complaint about the telecast Expenditures of the Indian Bureau Explanation of the increase since 1923 General objectives of the Bureau since 1953 Obstacles to the attaining of the objectives The Basic Indian Problem Part II (3-5) Detailed statement of Bureau Objectives for Indians since 1953 Re-statement of Basic Indian Problem Obstacles within the Indian and his group to solving problem Part III (5-6) Background of Kaleidoscope declared insufficient Central conclusion of the telecast criticized Focus of the telecast deplored Part IV (8-10) “False and Misleading Statements”--No. 1, On Terminating Federal Relations with Menominee Tribe About losing tax-free status of the Forest About terminating the Menominee tribal fund reserves Part V (11-17) “False and Misleading Statements”--No.2, By Congressman Metcalf On Indian land sales On pressures from outside the reservation to control resources On pressures inside the Indian Bureau upon the Indians to terminate relations with the Federal Government On relinquishing police services by the Bureau to the Omaha Tribe On Financial jeopardies forced upon the Cheyenne tribe On forced sale of power site in Flathead termination plan On pressures from the Area Director to terminate tribes Part VI (17-22) History of Federal Termination efforts since 1855 through Dec. 1958 Part VII (22-5) “False and Misleading Statements”--No. 3, About Blackfeet Relief Problems That the Blackfeet Tribe is a poor tribe That the Bureau will refuse aid
423 That there is anything unreasonable about demanding an audit of trib al fun ds wh ile reli ef ne ed s are un me t Part VIII (25-6) “False and Misleading Statements”--No. 4, About Hill 57 That Hill 57 is a responsibility of the Federal Government That Great Falls wants to solve the problem of this urban slum area Part IX (26-31) “False and Misleading Statements”--No. 5, About Blackfeet Resource Use Forcing tax status of farm land Excessive standby irrigation charges Underdevelopment of oil Bureau credit policies forcing Indians to sell land for food 52 Having sent a copy of the “overview outline” to the New York-based NBC News and Special Events Manager Julian Goodman, with a request for a transcript of the broadcast, Sister Providencia commented upon the politics of the network involvement in the upcoming Congressional hearings into the issues surrounding The American Stranger: You will see from the outline why we consider the Department’s statement of major importance as a policy declaration, not just a fretful response to criticism. I hope that I do not read into your unwilling[ness] to see Mr. McCormick “engage in public debate” any veto to his acceptance of an invitation to appear before the Committees. When I talked to Iliff McKay of the Blackfeet Tribal Council yesterday the first
424 thing he said in response to the outline was, “They will let Robert McCormick testify, won’t they?” She continued with localized news: Meanwhile, the triumph of the “Stranger” goes on. The State Senate of the Montana State Legislature passed the Memorial inspired by the film--unanimously! 53 The energetic nun sent McCormick a copy of most of her correspondence, and provided a running update in this missive she marked “confidential”; it was accompanied by a handwritten note: "I am going to give you an honorary Ph.D. if you get through this ammunition." Enclosed is a blind copy of the letter to the man whom I presume is one of the superior officers in your local bootcamp. I hope that my gentle hints will bring a correction of any undue worries on my part. It appears from his telegram to me that you will be back in the States in March. How lucky can you be? Other enclosures are to bring you up to date--in so far as we have pushed in vain from here for the introduction of the new Res. 3. You may have been flying wide but we are flying blind as to Washington strategy in this regard. The latest N.C.A.I. bulletin--see copy of item enclosed--tells nothing of the Resolution. The A.A.I.A. did not even deign to send us their latest. She continued: Senator Murray replied to wonderful Dr. Nutterville--honest! It was her own idea to write to you and to send copies to the Senators-- that he would invite you to appeal before his committee, "providing the hearings were open to the public." Of this we can make nothing. . . . Congressman Anderson's Committee likewise released a splendid study of Indian welfare situations all over the country but he turns from Montana welfare problems to accept a special assignment by Congressman Rayburn on Hopi-Navajo problems. I ask you. This was about the end of me. Co-incidental was the 30 degree-below-zero weather and fourteen homes on Hill 57 discovered without fuel of any sort, and most without food. . . .
425 More local news: The step-father of your little Jolene Comes-At-Night is in the hospital here to have his feet cut off (at the instep) from a wagon ride, after wood at 36 degrees below. That, Bureau please note, was his last time on his own two feet. Do you imagine that zero weather is one of the problems for the Hopi? The State Legislature passes unanimously its great Memorial to Congress--about Federal responsibility to Indians while County Big Brother sits in a welfare meeting with abrogating Uncle Sam's agent and the Blackfeet Council to dictate the welfare budget and to decide that it should not be cut below $15.00 per family every two weeks. Oscar Chapman finally woke up to my letter of Dec 2, and we have asked him to help us edit the reply to the Reply. Also sent him a COPY of my letter to [Senator Lyndon] Johnson whereby I threw all my aces on the table and probably gummed the works beyond repair. No reply from him. However, we did get a list of the House Interior Committee members to whom we are sending the Rocky Boy pictures, so maybe we do have our reply. Curios about what was happening in Washington, the Sister asked: I really would like a blow-by-blow account of the showing of the telecast to the Sub-committee. It remains a mystery under whose sponsorship it was shown and also whether or not you were there. I presume the negative, worse luck! At least the propaganda outcome from this direction was all in favor of the Bureau. Forgive me. I am not complaining--just reporting. As for the work by the Great Falls groups: The outline, friend, is a marvel, if I do say so. I don't think its form is any more loaded than it deserves, than the report deserves. Father Byrne and a "bunch of people" are pitting logic against non-logic, so it is anybody's guess. What we have thought of doing is interweaving outline and prose "answer" in one long rebuttal. As far as I am concerned, the outline "says" it for anyone with sense. Sister Providencia shared her own sense of exhaustion and frustration with the political process:
426 As you can see from the erratic appearance and errors of this typing, I am much the worse for the wear of the past four months since you puttered around these halls arguing with me. Hunger and cold and appeals and frustration. I had so hoped that the Congress would get to work immediately in January and reverse the policy whereby these crimes against humanity are daily being perpetuated. Now it looks as if the lawmakers will be satisfied with an uncertain ringing in the Indians on the local development plans of a depressed area bill or the spraying of flies by PHS sanitarians or the chopping away of heirships mostly while the withdrawal of Bureau services goes on apace and the further breakdown of Indian morale grows apace. I have stopped writing entirely to the Montana delegation since the Betwee letter. I am tired of repeating. The Canadians are still with us--about $400.00 now in hospital expenses for them, infections galore from picking cans in the dump. The new “ladies'-food-drive” has helped greatly--so what? It took me two months to jar them into action and the 25th Gospel of St. Matthew threatening hell for them, were they to continue their disdain. Her postscript added some local news updates: March 3, P.S. So thrilled about Res. 3 (new version) being introduced today. . . . The Blackfeet Tribe is assisting its members with hospital bills here at Columbus Hospital from oil income--$20,000 worth of payments which tribal members are unable to meet themselves. Polio: One Running Rabbit twin has been put out in a foster home, but little Calvin languishes here with tubes in his side--some of the consequences of malnutrition when he was so little. Hill 57: . . . I took the ladies out to the Hill today to see the black beans on the stove and the mud from melted snow--Nature's wall-to-wall carpet in the homes, an one Sister said. One family lives in a barn out there--the Canadian exiles--where a stream of water runs down the hill from one side right through the center of the earthen floor. Two kids were barefooted. Three homes of young people were neat and clean, however. One house sheltering two families had a bed with absolutely nothing but a mattress. Our newest plan for the Hill: A children's home for getting them out of the mud and into school from October until June. . . close enough to the one water spout to do some good. Hot wheat--Senator Mansfield cleared the gift of 1,000 bushels of "Hot wheat" through Agriculture, ir the local county board approves . . . should net about $1,000 to start a permanent fund for the Hill. Maybe we
427 can do some depressed area planning, or urban renewal co-op stuff. Say a prayer--in between? 54 On April 1, Sister Providencia sent an update to Iliff McKay in Browning: Been busy like crazy trying to hammer out the long-overdue reply to the Department's 31-page Reply. Talked to Congressman Anderson when he was here and he said the Bureau staged the opening show with his Interior Committee--brought in the film and the Reply--and to date, NO ONE has submitted a rebuttal. He said he would be very pleased to do so. We have been working on the fool thing since it came out--like stepping in taffy to start any place with it. I have a public high school girl working on a youth's reply and an Episcopalian minister on the ethical aspects and Father Brown has the film working on it down there. I hope to finish it today--Bill James thinks we really have a start. 55 Back in Great Falls, community groups were working hard on their rebuttals to the rebuttal, "true true facts" to counter the Interior Department's "True Facts" Statement. Multiple lengthy and detailed point-by-point rebuttals of the Statement were prepared, all challenging its manipulation of statistics to shore up its own interests. The approach and perspective of these grassroots rebuttals were decidedly local and regional, as expressed by Mary Oden Troy: Many of my friends out West here thought Mr. McCormick was too restrained. . . . We have known the Indians to fall on hard times, but the last two years have set a record, partly from the chronic distress that has developed for all rural people; but for the most part, from the withdrawal of the agency superintendent's attention to Indian needs and the cutting off of his agency's services to the Indians. Out West here, we all blame the appalling conditions among the poor people of the reservations upon the Bureau's activities--or lack of them--carried on in the name of HCR 108 of the 83rd Congress. Troy’s piece, entitled “An Evaluation of the Interior Department’s Statement About The American Stranger,” apparently became the primary “Reply” that was sent to legislators. Over 43 Great Falls community groups contributed to this "official" rebuttal
428 to the federal Statement, a coalition organized through efforts by the Friends of Hill 57 leaders Charles and Gubatayao. Troy began by saying that the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee had before it “not just a hassle between a TV commentator and aggrieved bureaucrats” (as the Interior Department’s Statement would have liked the public to believe), but rather that “in this controversy is the live stuff of which policy is reviewed, re-affirmed, or revised by Congress.” In a compelling and conversational narrative, Troy explained that the story found by McCormick, a struggle by several tribes to hold on to their acreage and to develop “the enormous riches of their ancient territories” was “an unknown story to the public.” Claiming some degree of personal authority on the Blackfeet situation, a tribe she said represented both the best and worst of termination’s consequences, Troy asserted that: There has been almost a complete breakdown in social services for 2,000 people since 1956, disruption of families, demoralization from the 1953 “freedom” to drink liquor on the reservation, squandering of thousands of dollars within a few months’ time from individual land sales, and destruction of groups cohesion. more than 60% of the tribe’s land base has passed out of Indian hands and the personality of whole communities has been changed by the social “taking over” of the new white owners. She claimed that the neglected psychological effects of termination were perhaps the greatest long-term effects of all. Critiquing the Interior Department’s attack on the broadcast for concluding (based upon “false statements of fact” and “clever insinuations”) that the government was deliberately engaged in a program to separate the Indians from their lands, Troy challenged: “The charges are immensely serious on
429 both sides and face the Congress with this basic question: Are we or are we not responsible for a social revolution on Federal trust property? [italics added]”: Robert McCormick was bound to show not only the consequences of terminating trusteeship over Indian land, but also the terminating of Bureau services. His message has recently re-echoed across the nation . . . . [by tribes] suffering termination frustrations--the Indian Bureau’s walking out on Indians and leaving them in a subsistence vacuum supposedly at the mercy of the counties and the States, but in reality, victims of welfare denials or irremediable inadequacies at the local level. Troy pointed out that the Interior Department statement had failed to convey the realities or truths of the Blackfeet situation, using as an example the “2,800 Indians without any sort of welfare program during an arctic November, 1958,” who were represented metaphorically on film by the schoolchild licking his plate clean. She acknowledged that, of course, The American Stranger had failed to “tell the whole story” about Indians who were prosperous and living away from reservations, “but we were especially proud of the up-and-coming tribal leaders that Mr. McCormick did introduce to the television audience.” In direct response to the infamous Interior Department Statement, Troy stated that the “only way to understand” the federal rebuttal was to consider that “The Statement is not an answer primarily to the telecast’s argument.” Instead, she claimed, it was an answer to the perceptions of the hundreds of viewer/citizens who wrote in protest: “The Senate Committee should call in the fourth party to the controversy--the viewers of the telecast--through their letters to the Department, to NBC, to the Tribes, and to Congressman Metcalf” [italics added]. Secondly, she argued that, in actuality, the Interior Statement “accepts the core idea of the telecast: that the Government is rapidly withdrawing its trusteeship over lands and services,
430 and seeks to justify withdrawal, not excuse it, by recounting the history of termination legislation and by a stout rejection of Government paternalism.” Troy argued that rather than a mere rebuttal of the charges of the telecast, the Interior Statement was in fact a “full-dress review of present [Indian Affairs] policy,” a statement “of many generalizations” (throwing a lot of numbers and statistics around). She summarily caricatured the Interior Department stance as a complaint that “no one understands . . . how effectively it is helping the Indians by ridding them of their special status as the responsibility of the Federal Government.” In other reactions, Troy characterized the Interior Statement as emotional, impatient, arrogant, and “downright libelous,” claiming it purposefully created misleading impressions. For example, regarding its claim that “reservation resources cannot possibly support more than a fraction of the present population,” Troy pointed out, “Overcrowding has never been a problem for the reservations of the telecast. Of course, the loss of a million acres of land by Montana tribes since 1954 can make it a problem.” She challenged the federal claims about the success of relocation, and smartly called the Interior Department for doing some of the very things it had accused the broadcast of doing--such as “over-emphasizing the difference between Indians and their non-Indian neighbors.” In her summary to Congress, Troy asserted: At this point, the reality of differentness, the controversy can be resolved. Congress has but to give the Department and the Indians and us belligerent citizens a different policy which recognizes the special status of Indians, the obligation not to dissolve it unilaterally, and the necessity of lifting the command of forced assimilation from the administrators.
431 Taking a strong stance of cultural relativism and teaching a lesson in social anthropology, Troy continued: We all agree that to be different is not to be less. To be different is to be different, and for the Indian this means being habituated to a group role in a way that no present-day non-Indian can comprehend. It means group-thinking and activities which have well-defined patterns of duty and rights which every Indian understands. The roles and the esteem and the contributions are plain to all. There are claims upon the family and tribal groups, systems of reciprocity that are not visible to outsiders--but always there comes the stimulus from within and a response to the energies of the group. Troy claimed that, in fact, a tribal member’s “very training among his own in cooperation, in other-orientation, group service and group loyalty, democratic deference to the wishes of the majority can become an asset to him,” and argued for Congress to “ask that the Commissioner tear up his Programing for Indian Social and Economic Improvement” termination and relocation guidelines, since they were “far too expensive in social cost to the Indian and economic cost to the Government.” 56 The other extended rebuttal produced by a Great Falls group, “Reply to the ‘Reply’,” was written by Judith Mozer, an eighth-grader at Great Falls High School. This piece, very impressive for a student work, characterized the Interior Department’s attitude as: The Bureau believes the main obstacle to attaining their objectives is due to the past paternalistic attitude of the Federal Government with the Indians. They feel the government has led the Indians to expect they will always be given food, lodging and services. This dampens the Indian initiative and encourages attitudes of drift [they believe]. . . . To test these conclusions, I investigated materials to show the reservation attitudes of a few Montana tribes. A study of the reservations was made in 1952 by the House of Representatives.
432 Mozer provided some federal demographic facts and figures on the relevant tribes, then provided a short history of the federal termination program. She based her arguments against termination on the assertion, “Most Indians are not yet prepared to compete with the outside world,” since many are “lacking in education” and cannot read or write in any language, much less English. “How can these people be expected to survive outside the reservation? Where will they receive aid?” she asked. Mozer also noted the discrimination faced by Indians at the hands of white, and the stereotypes that Indians were “shiftless, dirty and generally dishonest” which often prevented whites from hiring them. She pointed to Hill 57 as “a prime example of the fate of Indians away from the reservation” whose only source of aid was charity. She expressed concern (one rarely voiced by the progressive white altruists) that termination would drive even more displaced Indians to places like Hill 57, thus enlarging these civic problems and eyesores. Many of her arguments mirrored those of Troy, including her examples, yet her overall argument was much weaker and lacked a visionary sense of what might be done about these looming social problems. Her perspective reflected much more from that of the middle-class white residents of Great Falls and gave few insights on any Indian perspectives. 57
In late April, just prior to the Annual Meeting of the Association on American Indian Affairs at which McCormick would be honored for his work, Sister Providencia wrote Mr. and Mrs. McCormick: As the Indians would say, "I see where you and the old man will attend another in New York." Congratulations! We're going to have him so inflated he never will touch ground. I had an invitation also and deeply
433 mourned the 1500 odd miles between us. I never have been to an Association [on American Indian Affairs] meeting although I visited the offices in 1941 when Dad was in Washington. . . . Everything seems so slow but I think we are making progress in the "Replies" to the Reply! I scare myself to death when I read the Troy letter. It's like a whip, isn't it? Attesting to changes already in Indian Affairs, the Sister wrote: You must know that there are softer regulations on land sales and Joe says he has all sales stopped on his reservation. The Blackfeet Council is really "on the peck." They are withdrawing all school lunch money next year to force the Bureau to take it back. Back to Mrs. Troy--Congressman Metcalf wrote her that he will use part of her letter in his testimony. Senator Kuchel said he would give the copies to the Committee, Congressman Anderson said he would use it in due time, Senator Mansfield said it was a very fine, complete discussion. I hope we didn't misquote you, Chief. Would you like some copies? 58 Two weeks later, Sister Providencia sent this note to McKay: Would you have time to get a mailing list out of all the people who wrote to you for The American Stranger? We’d be glad to address the envelopes for you and enclose these to get you more going. . . .Do you get the Saturday Review of Literature in Browning? Lead article on termination by Neuberger. Hoping to hear from you. 59 Meanwhile, apparently in response to a request from Metcalf for supporting evidence from the Blackfeet Tribe, tribal attorney Arthur Lazarus in Washington composed the following letter for Metcalf on behalf of the Tribe. It narrativizes the recent history of intercultural and political interchanges between the Blackfeet Tribe and the federal government, documenting the Tribe’s (and especially McKay’s) frustrations in its relationship with the paternalistic administration of the Indian Bureau,
434 and providing yet another “Reply to the Reply” rebutting the Interior Department’s claims. It also provides evidence of the intercultural contestation over “truths”: The Statement by the Department of the Interior concerning the Kaleidoscope television program . . . recites that the "Indian Bureau runs a welfare program on the Blackfeet Reservation." After describing this "program", the Statement refers to the assistance Blackfeet Indians receive under the Social Security Act and also to the surplus food commodities which some members of the Tribe receive from the Department of Agriculture. The Statement then concludes: "In view of these facts, it is shocking to consider that the people in the Indian Bureau stand accused of doing nothing to help the Blackfeet." “I need not call your attention,” Lazarus noted, “to the fact that the Indian Bureau did not lift a finger to help in the establishment of a surplus food commodities program on the Blackfeet Reservation or any other Indian reservation in the state of Montana”: Furthermore, the program now in operation is financed by the Tribe and local authorities, without participation in terms of finances, personnel or otherwise by the Bureau. Similarly, I need not call your attention to the fact that the assistance Blackfeet Indians receive under the Social Security Act in no way is attributable to activities of the Indian Bureau. Indians are entitled to such assistance as a matter of law, and a 50% matching Federal contribution is required by statute. “Insofar as general assistance is concerned,” Lazarus continued, “the Bureau again does not make any contribution at all on the Blackfeet Reservation.” He pointed to a confirmation of this in the Interior Department Statement. The only welfare program on the Blackfeet Reservation to which the Bureau really can point, therefore, is a certain minimal amount of activity relating to child welfare. With respect to such Bureau welfare activities on the Blackfeet Reservation, I wish to direct your attention to correspondence on this subject between the Bureau and Iliff McKay, Secretary of the Blackfeet Tribal Council, during November and December of 1958. My file copies of most of this correspondence are enclosed for your information and use. . . .
435 Lazarus stated that on November 18, 1958, McKay had written to the Area Office asking for details concerning this program, and had received a letter from Assistant Area Director Reinhold Brust as follows: "Appropriated funds are apportioned for various Bureau program activities. In Fiscal 1958 the Branch of Welfare at Blackfeet was apportioned $38,000 for salaries, operating expenses, and child welfare services (mainly boarding home care). As you know, there was a savings because the Social Worker resigned in January, 1958 and it was not possible to fill the position." On December 10, Lazarus continued, McKay wrote to the Area Director, through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, asserting that Mr. Brust's reply was not responsive to his questions: Mr. McKay, on November 18, had asked if the money was actually spent and, if so, for what purpose. In his letter of December 10 he again asked if the $38,000 was apportioned to the Blackfeet Indian Agency and, if so, "can you tell me whether or not it was actually spent; and if the money was spent, what was the purpose of the expenditure." Then, Lazarus attested, McKay received a reply from the Commissioner's office, “the substantive portion of which reads as follows”: "It appears that you felt you had not received an adequate reply to your question either from the Superintendent or the Area Director. We have read Mr. Brust's letter and believe it is an accurate statement. Apparently you do not quite understand the terms used." The Commissioner's office further stated that Mr. McKay's letter of December 10 was being sent to the Area Office, and "we are sure that they will explain any further questions you have." On December 24, Lazarus continued, “McKay wrote Acting Assistant Commissioner Hildegarde Thompson to comment further upon the information furnished by Mr. Brust in his letter of November 25.” McKay asked: “In all good conscience, do you believe my request for information has been answered? Or perhaps as you say, I do not quite understand the
436 terms used. I am a person of little knowledge and less education. But what I would like to know is: was this $38,000.00 spent? If so, what for? And was any spent for direct assistance as has been implied?” "Perhaps you do not understand the terms used in my request. Or perhaps you resent our request for information. If this is the case, please let me know and I will stop making them through your prescribed channels.” "If, after reading this letter, you still do not understand what I wish to learn about appropriations for welfare on the Blackfeet reservation for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1958, please let me know." In reply to McKay's third inquiry on the same subject, the Acting Assistant Commissioner (Thompson) responded, according to Lazarus: "I sincerely regret if my letter of December 22nd implied to you that we were trying to evade your questions. I want to assure you that your request for information concerning expenditure of Welfare funds at the Blackfeet Agency is considered appropriate, and you are entitled to an adequate reply.” Mrs. Thompson again noted that Agency fiscal accounts are maintained in the Area Office and that the reply to Mr. McKay would come from the Area Director. On December 30, 1958, Area Director Percy E. Melis finally gave McKay a breakdown on the Bureau's welfare activities on the Blackfeet Reservation. Lazarus emphasizes, “Of the $38,000 available for expenditure, actual disbursements totaled approximately $18,000. Of the $18,000 in fact expended, less than half was devoted to services and more than half was devoted to administration. In other words, substantially less than one-quarter of the amount the Bureau claimed to be devoting to welfare on the Blackfeet Reservation actually went for such purposes. In view of the foregoing, an objective observer will find it something less than [quoting the Interior Department’s Statement] "shocking. . . that the people in the Indian Bureau stand accused of doing nothing to help the Blackfeet." 60
437 On May 15, 1959, six full months after the broadcast, Rep Lee Metcalf discussed The American Stranger as the centerpiece of a "blistering attack" on the Eisenhower administration before the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Chairman James Haley opened the Hearings with a reminder about the television program of the past November, and the previous hearing in which the Interior Department expressed its views, and noted that Metcalf had requested an audience of the committee. Rep. LeRoy Anderson had distributed to the members of the Committee the materials prepared by the Great Falls groups "to further amplify the presentation." Regarding the actions of "us belligerent citizens," Mary Oden Troy of Great Falls wrote to the Congressional Committee: "The Committee has before it not just a hassle between a TV commentator and aggrieved bureaucrats. In this controversy is the live stuff of which policy is reviewed, re-affirmed, or revised by Congress." [italics added] 61 Metcalf opened with the remarks, "I regret that this morning I am going to have to come with a rather forceful statement in defense of a position which I took on the television program. . . The American Stranger." He continued: When I was asked about the basic reason for the drive for termination, I told Mr. McCormick that in my opinion it was an economic reason. That the motivation came from people who would like to get their hands on the Indians' resources. At the outset, let it be understood that "termination" to my mind is just another word in a large lexicon descriptive of a long and determined effort to exploit the Indians' resources. Nor is this drive limited to the present Administration although it reached its high water mark in the 83rd Congress. But prior to the outcry for "termination" we heard about the need for "liquidation of the Indian Bureau" and "assimilation" of the Indian for the same purpose--to get his land, his power sites, his forests and other assets at bargain prices."
438 Metcalf attacked the "rather aggressive and vigorous Statement" made by the Interior Department: the "collection of 'True Facts' and the 'revised and Corrected True Facts'." The Hearing became a rather lively argument between Metcalf and pro-termination Republican Congressman Berry of South Dakota, who challenged nearly every statement the Democratic representative from Montana made in support of tribal rights. 62 The mass distribution of Metcalf's speech, through mailing lists compiled from viewers who had originally responded to the documentary, reignited a wave of grassroots response throughout Montana, and the struggle for national support for local self-determination continued with new fuel. 63 Metcalf’s fellow Representative from Montana, LeRoy Anderson, sent the following letter to constituents and colleagues the following week: By now you undoubtedly have had time to thoroughly study the statement which Lee Metcalf made before the Committee concerning the film The American Stranger, and the allegations made by the Indian Bureau people denouncing him and the program itself for its statements. Lee really made a terrific impact on the Committee, and one of the Republican Congressmen on the Committee unthinkingly provided the foil for Lee to dash in all the better. The G.O.P. Congressman tried to defend the Administration’s viewpoint, and step by step gave Lee an effective chance to really beat home his case. Concurrently with the mater, I sent to the members of the full Committee the material sent in by Mrs. Troy to further amplify the presentation. With reference to my H. Con. Res. 92, the Indian Bureau was requested for a report on this on April 10. As yet we haven’t received one word from them on the matter. It will probably be a month or two yet before they can make up their minds for a public statement on this measure to restate the federal responsibility towards Indians. 64 Similarly, in early June, NCAI Executive Director Helen L. Peterson mailed a postcard to every member of the all-Indian organization with the following message:
439 We have arranged to have sent to you 2 published pieces: one is Senator James Murray's study of Indian land sales and the other is the remarks of Congressman Lee Metcalf before the House Indian Subcommittee regarding the Kaleidoscope program entitled [The] American Stranger shown on NBC-TV stations last November 16th. We know you will be interested in these reports and because you are a current member of NCAI, we are pleased we could have them sent to you. We hope you will want to send a card of thanks and appreciation to Senator Murray and Congressman Metcalf. 65 Upon receiving a copy of Metcalf’s May 15, 1959 statement before the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, a Phoenix attorney writing on behalf of his “many Indian friends” that Metcalf’s words “should put an end to the Bureau’s statement of ‘True Facts’ about Mr. Robert McCormick’s reports. However, I suspect that a great deal more time will be expended by the Bureau in preparing some ‘True, True Facts.’” 66 John Rainer, former chairman of the All-Pueblo Council of New Mexico, wrote and congratulated Metcalf “on the explicit statements, especially in reference to the so-called ‘Better Health, Better Education and Better Opportunities of Making an Adequate Living’ hoax of the present administration and the exhibit A showing of the Bureau’s double-talk technique in the correspondence of the Blackfeet’s search for “true facts” about the $38,000 appropriation of its welfare program. . . . There are many of us who can give you support to the facts you have presented.” Some of those who shared their thanks--and their truths--were Booth Brown of Fort McDowell,
440 Arizona; Nevada’s Melvin Thom, President of the Regional Indian Youth Council; Maisie Hurley, publisher of British Columbia’s The Native Voice, and D’Arcy McNickle, then head of American Indian Development, Inc. of Boulder, Colorado. Osage Tribal Council member and attorney G. V. Labadie of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, wrote Metcalf: I just received the published remarks you made regarding the program entitled "AMERICAN STRANGERS" [sic]. I had the pleasure of seeing this broadcast last November over the TV station. I want to take this opportunity of thanking you for presenting the Indian question in such a masterful manner. I am a member of the Osage Tribe of Indians and have been on the Tribal Council for over thirty years and feel that I am competent to pass judgment on Indian matters. I have carefully read the remarks you made in the published report which is being circulated by the NCAI, and again I want to compliment you on a job well done. I consider your criticism of the Indian Bureau very well taken. The executive Secretary of the Seminole Indian Association of Florida, Bertram Scott, commented to Metcalf: “I watched the performance of The American Stranger on TV with much interest and had hoped it might be the start of a much needed series. Evidently, that is not to be. . . . I want you to know that we are most appreciative of the battle for these people whom we have made foreigners in their own land.” An Oklahoma woman, Letitia Shankle, wrote Metcalf a long handwritten letter detailing many incidences of discrimination against Indians she had experienced in Washington and Oregon, concluding that “Negroes are treated better than Indians.” Joseph Garry, Chair of the Coeur d’Alene tribe as well as President of the NCAI, asked for 100 extra copies to distribute among his tribe, commenting: “Your statement not only takes ‘the words right out of my mouth’, but provides more documented information which would make excellent reading for the few of our membership who have been misinformed and led to believe what would be their immediate salvation.”
441 Metcalf also received a lengthy and moving handwritten letter from Joshua Wetsil, Chief of the Assiniboine tribe of Wolf Point, Montana, who outlined the internal turmoil in his tribe resulting from a federal demand that the tribe determine a blood quantum limit for membership before any tribal money from oil leases and royalties would be distributed by the government. 67 Taking advantage of the mailing list of supporters and sympathizers created in the wake of The American Stranger, the Blackfeet Tribe also sent out copies of Metcalf’s statement before the House, accompanied by the following letter: Recently the Department of the Interior through its Bureau of Indian Affairs released a lengthy commentary on the script of the TV program The American Stranger. In its commentary, the Department of the Interior saw fit to criticize many statements made by the people interviewed on the TV program. The Department was particularly critical of statements made by Hon. Lee Metcalf, Congressman from Montana and a former member of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. There are always, of course, two sides to every story. Attached hereto is a statement made by Congressman Metcalf before the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs which I know you will find interesting. I know Congressman Metcalf will appreciate hearing from you and getting your views of his statement. Again, many thanks for your interest in Indian Affairs. 68 In July, Sister Providencia sent the following note to those on her mailing list. It will soon be a year since the fateful talks in the classroom. This release about Blackfeet oil reminded me today. You may like to see the newest social study. Next to Richard's Blackfeet relief research I think this is the best we have done. Copies are with the committee waiting for the S. Con. Res. 12 hearings. How do things look from where you sit? Very good from here, incidentally. The Commissioner is due in Browning on Tuesday. I only wish you could have seen the wonderful ceremonials this July in thanks for the blessing of many friends. Blackie did so appreciate your kindnesses. 69
442 Four months later, she and Iliff McKay collaborated on a presentation for a Great Falls community group. After the presentation, Sister Providencia wrote up McKay’s speech from his notes and prepared to publicize his message in the regional press. I thought you might like to know what you had to say to the chart--how’s about my ability to make something out of nothing--7 pages! “Natchurly,” I had to put in a few phrases and some facts that Robert LaF[romboise] had given me. Any additions or corrections most happily received because it is going to “Red” Fenwick of the Denver Post--he is out on research into land sales and he was three hours grilling me on my psychological impact upon Indians--will do a series--going face to face Emmons in DC. He is the reporter that dug up Navajo starvation in 1946 and has been to many NCAI conventions. Wonderful? On my way to Guest the Navy by Air Tuesday. Wish me safe voyage--Sister 70 Enclosed with her letter was the transcribed speech, “A Tribal Councilman Comments on ‘Today and Tomorrow’." Here, in these excerpts, McKay presents more cultural truths from the Blackfeet perspective about the government’s land policies. 71 McKay also contributed some insights on Tribal Service Programs: There is a breakdown in standards among the tribal members of low income, or of no income at all, who have to depend on the Tribe for relief. The County, as you know, administers the money we provide, and the County puts in $10,000. We expect about 2,300 this fall when the farm work is over, and we are trying to force the County to raise its contribution, but there is a law that it cannot supplement its funds from State sources unless it raises its tax levy in the County. This the Commissioners refuse to do. That is why our total relief budget last year topped $75,000. At that we can only afford to give single men $7.00 every two weeks, and a family of three, $12.00. Yes, this has been going on for about three years now. Probably our biggest item is medical, for Indian medical bills from the hospitals and doctors off the reservation. We paid up $200,000 last year alone for the bills which the individuals could not pay. This fall we put out more than $25,000 in one month for the school kids. We gave scholarships to the college students and we gave a per capita payment to every school child for clothes and school supplies. The Tribe spent $1,000 for a bus to take the Blackfeet children to the Indian
443 Bureau boarding school in South Dakota. Every child had money for food on the way. . . . If we can get more authority in the tribal Courts to govern and discipline, strengthen the Court as a racial and tribal entity, we will be able to handle our problems. . . . This coming session of Congress will tell us whether we are going to fall apart or get a new lease on life. . . . I am crusading for a delay in all this termination legislation, so that these Indians will have time to make up their minds where they want to live the way they want to live. But I want it to be their minds. 72 A year after the broadcast of The American Stranger, McKay wrote a long letter to General David Sarnoff of RCA/NBC, expressing the Tribe’s appreciation for the unforeseen consequences the national broadcast brought to the Tribe and to Indian Affairs in general: “The Blackfeet Tribe wishes to extend its greetings and its appreciation to you, Mr. Robert McCormick and other members of the crew, and to your organization on the anniversary of the showing of the TV program, The American Stranger.” “Before the showing of this program, we felt our pleas to the U.S. Government (through its Bureau of Indian Affairs) and our protestations of administrative acts detrimental to the welfare of our tribe and to American Indians generally, were simply shrugged off as echoes of voices of aboriginal people from the past--people too stubborn to accept the inevitable loss of their racial identity, their property, and even their history of contribution to the development of the world’s greatest nation. The heart-warming response, during the past year, to the showing of The American Stranger has changed this for most of us.”
444 “The first reaction was from the American public. A flood of letters asking for more information and offering assistance was received by our office. Many people who in the past had felt that the U.S. Government was receiving annual appropriations of money for care of our American Indian population expressed their interest and indignation upon learning that this was not the case. Still others expressed their shame that the complacency of the American public had allowed conditions on Indian reservations as revealed in the program to continue for so many years.” “But there was also the reaction of employees of the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their first reaction, of course, was a defensive one. Each employee seemed to take personal offense to the program, feeling that the inescapable conclusion of unfairness on the part of the U.S. Government was aimed at him or his department. (It reminded me of the story of a playwright who some years ago did an adaptation of the play, King Lear, using modern names and conditions. It seems that soon after the play was presented, the producer was contacted by most of the country’s leading families threatening him with slander and libel suits if further showings of the play were not canceled.) But after the first flurry of charges and counter-charges died down, it seems that someone in a policy-making capacity in the Interior Department, in his mind’s eyes, must have viewed the program objectively.” “Since the showing of the program, the land policies of the Department of Interior have been revised. The Indian Bureau has tightened regulations pertaining to the sale of Indian-owned land. Greater care has been taken to insure that interests of other Indians and of Indian tribes will be protected. And also, the Bureau has relaxed
445 long-standing restrictions on Indian tribes acquiring land and making this land a part of the reservation land base.” “But the greatest change, I believe, seems to be in the field of termination of Federal responsibility for development of Indian reservation resources--both material and human--to the same level as those in non-Indian communities. Over the past several years, the Government seems to have adapted a policy of “getting out of the Indian business at all costs.” During this past year, since the showing of The American Stranger, this policy seems to have been soft-pedaled or is now undergoing a re-examination.” “I do not suggest that all of the ills of Indian people in the U.S. are now cured, but I am confident that steps in the right direction have been taken.” “In these days of charges of cause, effect and existence of ‘rigged’TV programs, I am sure you can take comfort in knowing that no one can doubt the sincerity and integrity of your organization. The fine piece of TV journalism and the good that one production such as The American Stranger can do for an entire race of people is absolute proof of this. The service you did for the American Indian people and consequently, for the nation, will never be forgotten.” “With sincere good wishes for the Holiday Season to you and your entire organization from the Blackfeet people. . . .” 73 Having sent a copy of the Sarnoff letter to McCormick, McKay received the following reply from the journalist: Your letter to Sarnoff was magnificent. I haven't heard anything from Sarnoff himself, but it would take some time for the thing to trickle down to me. But in the meantime I showed your carbon to my immediate
446 bosses who were most gratified, and it's possible the letter might help my campaign to do another story--on what has been done to straighten things out, and what still needs doing. But please don't say anything about this, because it’s just a hope rattling around in my punkin' head at this point--and I don't want to get a lot of people needlessly aroused. . . . I feel guilty that I haven't kept in closer touch with you nice people but dammit I don't seem to have time to do anything I really want to do. . . . Thanks again for your letter; it was the smartest and nicest thing you could have done. . . . Hope to see you again and soon, either here or in your own country. 74 Unfortunately, McKay had sent his letter to Sarnoff to NBC’s Washington news bureau (since that was McCormick’s address), and Sarnoff did not receive the letter for several months. Four months later, in March of 1960, McKay received the following letter from Lester Bernstein, NBC’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs. Through a highly regrettable chain of errors originating in the fact that it was addressed to NBC in Washington, your generous letter of November 16 on the continuing impact of The American Stranger has only recently come to Mr. Sarnoff's attention. He has asked me to express his warm thanks for your thoughtfulness in writing to him and his gratification that this NBC program has been making tangible contributions toward a solution of the problems it treated. The NBC administrator added: As it happens, NBC is currently preparing to offer another program touching on a matter of deep interest to American Indians. On March 29 from 8:00-9:00 PM we are planning to present The American, a retelling of the story of Ira Hayes, into which we have woven an account of the water rights problem of the Pima tribe. We are hopeful that this program will win the support of Indians generally and those who take a particular interest in their problems. Again may I assure you that your thoughtful letter was very much appreciated, and we do regret that circumstances have postponed its acknowledgment until now. With best wishes. 75
447 As a result of the television documentary and the efforts of the Montana coalitions, the changes in public and legislative sentiment in Montana and across the nation had become palpable. This case study provides rich empirical evidence for the appropriation of television as a podium to mobilize a variety of regional and national publics in support of regional cultural, political and economic issues. The regionally-based controversy surrounding The American Stranger provides insights into the ways that diverse groups of people may be moved to political and social action by media discourses, and in particular the way that competing social formations coalesce, unify or set themselves in opposition around a set of ideological issues enunciated by the media. In most cases, the discourses activated by the media intersect with and build upon political and ideological discourses already circulating in society, reflecting the institutionalized stances of different blocs and interest groups.
448 NOTES TO CHAPTER SIX
1. William C. Pratt has discussed the history of rural left-wing activism in this region in "Rural Radicalism on the Northern Plains, 1912-1950," Montana The Magazine of Western History (Winter 1992) 42-55. 2. Transcript of statement by Richard Shipman (undated), distributed by the AAIA. AAIA Papers. 3. “Resolution on Indian Affairs” adopted by Biennial Convention of National Farmers Union, March, 1954. AAIA Papers. 4. “Haste Unjust to Flatheads,” Elephant Trumpetings (Official News Publication of the Montana Young Republicans), 2/1 (January 1954) 1. 5. "Indian Information" Circular, dated 3 December 1958, distributed by the Friends of Hill 57, Great Falls, Montana. Sister Providencia Papers. 6. Letter to McCormick, dated 16 November 1958 from Reuben Martel of Albuquerque, New Mexico. McCormick Papers. 7. An April 29 screening sponsored by the Cascade County Community Council was followed by Richard Charles' report on activities of local groups interested in Indian problems. "Indian Problems Film Will Be Shown Tonight" (29 April 1959) Great Falls Tribune. One kinescope request came from Knute Bergan, State Coordinator for Indian Affairs, Helena, who saw such a community screening as a springboard for discussion and community action on local racial issues. Letter to McCormick dated 18 November 1958, McCormick Papers. 8. Letter from Richard Charles to Iliff McKay dated 20 January 1959, McKay Papers. Charles notes the film is in Browning now, and that the Crow tribe is scheduled to get it next. "Sister suggests that instead of sending him the film . . . , you ask him to come up to Browning and see it. She likes the idea of having him beg you for a favor. She is happy at the thought of all those rich, important people, being so annoyed at the film they get ulcers." In an earlier letter to McCormick (dated 18 November 1958), Charles listed local and regional agencies which had already requested copies of the kinescope. There was also correspondence between Montana tribal and community leaders and Canadian groups (e.g., the Lethbridge, Alberta television station) concerning acquisition of the kinescope for Canadian broadcast and distribution. McCormick Papers. 9. Letter to McCormick dated 18 November 1958 from Richard A. Charles of Great Falls. McCormick Papers. 10. Letter to McCormick dated November 17, 1958 from Sister Providencia.
449 McCormick Papers. 11. Letter to Glenn Emmons, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated November 24, 1958 from Richard A. Charles, Secretary, Friends of Hill 57. Countersigned by The Reverend Richard J. Koch, Incarnation Episcopal Church; Dorothy Bohn, Executive Board Cascade County Community Council; Leonard Kenfield, State President Montana Farmer's Union; Ella Homann, Former President Great Falls Business and Professional Women; Catherine Nutterville, faculty, College of Great Falls; Mrs. Margaret Enyart, Board member, Flower Growers Club of Great Falls; Max Gubatayao, Chairman, Friends of Hill 57; W.C. Blanchette, Program Director, KFBB-TV and 430 other petitioners representing Great Falls churches, business and educational groups, as well as 92 signatures of “Citizens of the Little Shell Chippewa living in city limits of Great Falls.” Metcalf Papers 225/3. 12. Letter to Percy E. Melis, BIA Area Director, Billings, Montana dated 30 November 1958 from Richard A. Charles. Mansfield Papers, Box X, file 133d; Murray Papers 264/4. 13. Letter to Lee Metcalf, Washington, D.C. dated 2 December 1958 from Charles. Metcalf Papers 225/3. 14. Letter to Charles dated 4 December 1958 from Senator James E. Murray. Murray Papers 264/4. 15. Letter to Iliff McKay dated 1 December 1958 from Sister Providencia. McKay Papers. 16. Letter to Oliver LaFarge dated 1 December 1958 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 17. Letter to Sister Providencia dated 2 December 1958 from McCormick. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21. 18. “INDIAN INFORMATION” newsletter circular sent to supporters of “Friends of Hill 57" organization, dated 3 December 1958. Sister Providencia Papers. 19. Circular dated 7 December 1958 sent to priests across Montana from Max Gubatayao, Chairman, Friends of Hill 57. Sister Providencia Papers. 20. Letter to Senator Mike Mansfield dated 2 December 1958 from Sister Providencia. Mansfield Papers, Box X, file 133d. 21. Letter to Sister Providencia dated 11 December 1958 from Raymond L. Dockstader, Legislative Assistant to Mansfield. Mansfield Papers, Box X, file 133d.
450 22. Letter to Sister Providencia dated 10 December 1958 from Mrs. Agnes B. Wells of Browning, Montana. Sister Providencia Papers. 23. Letter to Iliff McKay dated 12 December 1958 (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe) from Sister Providencia. McKay Papers. 24. Letter to McCormick dated 17 December 1958 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 25. “Relief Plan Instituted for Blackfeet,” UPI wire article printed in Great Falls Tribune, 16 December 1958. 26. Letter to McCormick dated 8 January 1959 from Charles. McCormick Papers. 27. Letter to McCormick dated 21 December 1958 from Charles. McCormick Papers. 28. Letter to Emmons dated 21 December 1958 from Charles. Handwritten on McCormick copy: “Signatures now total 800 from Montana viewers of the telecast.” McCormick Papers. 29. Letter to Charles as Secretary, Friends of Hill 57, dated 29 December 1958 from Emmons. Mansfield Papers, Box X, file 133d. 30. Letter to Mansfield dated 16 January 1959 from Emmons. Mansfield Papers, Box X, file 133d. 31. Letter to McCormick dated 8 January 1959 from Charles. McCormick Papers. 32. Circular distributed by Friends of Hill 57 in early 1959. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21. The Circular includes excerpts from seven letters from Senators, dated from 21 December 1958 to 5 January 1959. 33. Letter to McCormick dated 4 January 1959 from Gubatayao. McCormick Papers. 34. Western Union Telefax to McCormick dated 5 January 1959 from Theodore Last Star, Blackfeet Tribe, c/o Columbus Hospital, Great Falls. The reply from McCormick was dated January 26, 1959. McCormick Papers. 35. Letter to M.C. Betwee, Director of Child Accounting and Special Services, The Michigan
District of Kiwanis International, Wyandotte, Michigan, dated 5 January 1959 from Sister Providencia of the College of Great Falls. Copies sent to J. O. Meyers, NBC News Division, and McCormick. A lengthy bibliography was attached “ which document facts in The American Stranger.” AAIA Papers; also in McCormick Papers, as well as Sister Providencia
Papers (Cheney Cowles Museum) 4/17.
451 36. Letter to McCormick dated 12 January 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 37. Letter to Montana State Representative Harold 0. Gunderson of Cascade County, dated January 14, 1959 from Charles. McCormick Papers. 38. McCormick Papers. 39. Letter to J. O. Meyers, Director of News, NBC dated 15 January 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 40. Letter to Sister Providencia dated 25 January 1959 from McCormick. McCormick Papers. 41. Circular dated 29 January 1959 from Sister Providencia to “All neglected relatives,
friends, gift-giving strangers, and inquirers Re: Happy New Years! A giving of thanks. A suggestion or two.” Sister Providencia Papers.
42. Letter to LaFarge dated 30 January 1959 from Sister Providencia. Sister Providencia Papers. 43. Letter to McCormick and NBC dated 2 Februrary 1959 from Dr. Catherine Nutterville, College of Great Falls. McCormick Papers. 44. Letter to Gubatayao dated 19 January 1959 from Rosemary Macklem, American Indian Mission Center, Cleveland, Ohio. McCormick Papers. Copy of Macklem letter sent to McCormick by Gubatayao had been retyped, lacking original signature. 45. Letter to McCormick dated 9 February 1959 from Charles. McCormick Papers. 46. Letter to Mrs. John Wilson Hall, Alderman, First Ward, Great Falls, dated 11 February 1959 from Max Gubatayao for the Friends of Hill 57. Response from Hall handwritten on back of letter, undated. Sister Providencia Papers. 47. Transcript of Subcommittee on Indian Affairs hearings, dated 9 February 1959. Metcalf Papers 604/5. 48. Letter to Julian Goodman, News and Special Events Director at NBC, dated 27 February 1959 from Sister Providencia. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21. 49. Letter to Senator Lyndon Johnson, Washington, D. C. dated 11 February 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers.
452 50. Letter to Oscar Chapman, Pennsylvania Building, Washington, D.C. dated 21 February 1959 from Sister Providencia. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 4/17. 51. Memorandum sent to all Montana tribes dated 24 February 1959 from the Friends of Hill 57 “Re: The Bureau of Indian Affairs Reply to the NBC Telecast The American Stranger.” Metcalf Papers 225/3. 52. Metcalf Papers 225/3. 53. McCormick Papers. 54. Letter to McCormick dated 1 March 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 55. Letter to Iliff McKay dated 1 April 1959 from Sister Providencia. McKay Papers. 56. Mary Oden Troy, "An Evaluation of the Interior Department's Statement About The American Stranger," AAIA Papers. Troy had been a public school teacher in Utah and Montana for 23 years. The piece is undated, but other records indicate that it was written in the Spring of 1959. 57. Judith Mozer, "Reply to the ‘Reply'," Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21. 58. Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Robert McCormick dated 25 April 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 59. Letter to Iliff McKay dated 12 May 1959 from Sister Providencia. McKay Papers. 60. Metcalf Papers 225/3. 61. "Dear Friend" letter from LeRoy Anderson dated 21 May 1959, retyped. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21. Troy piece, page 1. AAIA Papers. 62. LeRoy Anderson letter dated 21 May 1959. Transcript of Hearings of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs on the Kaleidoscope Television Program, May 15, 1959, page 19. Metcalf Papers 604/5. 63. Letter to Iliff McKay dated 12 May 1959 from Sister Providencia, asking if he would get together a mailing list of all the people who had contacted the tribe: "We'd be glad to address the envelopes for you and enclose these to get more letters going." McKay papers. 64. Letter to “Friends” from Representative LeRoy Anderson dated 21 May 1959. Sister Providencia Papers (Cheney Cowles) 1/21.
453 65. Postcard to all NCAI members dated 5 June 1959 from NCAI Executive Director Helen L. Peterson. NCAI Papers. A handwritten note indicates: "Mailed to all current members (500) along with hotel card about 1959 Convention. . . 6-5-59." 66. Letter to Metcalf dated 1 June 1959 from Z. Simpson Cox, Phoenix, Arizona. Metcalf Papers 225/3. 67. All letters dated May-July, 1959 in Metcalf Papers 225/3. 68. Letter to “Friends” sent to every person on Blackfeet mailing list from The American Stranger correspondence, dated 12 June 1959, from Iliff McKay, Secretary, Blackfeet Tribal Council, Browning, Montana. McKay Papers. 69. Letter to “Friends” dated 8 July 1959 from Sister Providencia. McCormick Papers. 70. Letter to McKay dated 12 November 1959 from Sister Providencia, accompanied by the text of McKay’s speech as edited by Sister Providencia. McKay Papers. 71. McKay’s speech includes: “After 1952, a lame-duck Indian Bureau suspended credit activity carried on since the Indian Reorganization Act through the Federal revolving funds and tribal funds. It is my idea that this move was a preconceived plan under the operation of the Indian Commissioner who was a Gallup, New Mexico financier. The freezing of the credit was accomplished on the principle that the lending operations of the Federal Government to Indians should be shared by the private banks of the West. The catch was that when the Bureau and Tribal lending programs were frozen, the Indian had to go to outside banks on the same basis as non-Indians. At these banks he had to have security, but his only security was his land. In these new "cooperative" and integrative regulations, the Bureau over-estimated Indian intelligence. The Indians started clamoring for mortgages and sale of their lands--in order to operate their lands. The Bureau regulations about the use of the former loan funds were too strict on productive enterprises. In effect the Indian borrower was placed on the same status as the non-Indians. The Indian was not ready for it. He found himself with a lot of property for which he couldn't get a nickel from the normal lending agencies. His next step was to ask to convert land into cash. Complicating the situation was the unemployment and the problems of subsistence. Unwittingly right today, in spite of some improvement in the credit picture, the Indian still gives the Bureau its strongest argument for liquidation of property. Once the Indians were set to sacrifice their lands for credit and subsistence needs, the Bureau set up ways and means to assist Indians to dispose of their property. It instituted the Realty Branch at every reservation level. All the tribal councils opposed the regulations of the Bureau which set aside the restrictions on sale of land in the Indian Reorganization Act, because the councils saw
454 the evils in the destruction of the land base of the tribes. They foresaw that these same Indians who were clamoring to sell their lands would soon be broke and right back on the tribe to assist them--from the proceeds of a diminished land resource. However, the objections of the tribal councils sowed the seeds of distrust in Indians of other Indians who wanted to see the property held in Indian hands, who wanted to continue to live in groups. Those who were looking for rapid disposal of their property became suspicious of other Indians. They began to look upon their tribal leaders as a menace to themselves. They began to circulate complaints on the reservations and in Washington, D. C., that the council members wanted to hang onto the land so that they could use the revenues for themselves. It has been very interesting to watch these same people who were all against the IRA which prevented the sale of Indian land. After they have sold out and wasted the proceeds, they will come back to the Tribe and be the strongest advocates of the land-base principle. They end up in support of the very program they tried their best to destroy. An instance is Louis Plenty Treaty who has sold $54,000 worth of land since 1955. He has been one of the loudest in shouting his right to sell. Today he does not have a cent and the other day he was up before the Tribal Council on our reservation to get some relief help from the Blackfeet Tribe. He said, 'If you can't turn to your own people to help you, who will help?' The Indian Bureau declared him competent and privileged to handle his own finances, so he was granted patents-in-fee for all his lands. Today he has only a 1959 Ford car on which he owes $800--a half-dozen kids, a 4th grade education, He is 55 years of age. We have 8,000 members in the Blackfeet Tribe, about a third of them living off the reservation. They don't like to see our revenues from tribal land and resources going down the drain in welfare programs for people who have squandered the returns from the sale of their own allotments. The council is placed in some very difficult positions. One of the big causes of breakdown in Indian morale, as a consequence of the land and credit squeeze and withdrawal of Indian Bureau welfare programs, is the forcing of the Indian to apply for services from the white man's agency. There the Indian has to go and beg. . . . Under the Council's direction the whole reservation is undergoing a realignment of land ownership involving the heirships, land exchanges between Indians, negotiated sales between Indians and the Tribe, etc. Our worst obstacles are the supervised land sales conducted by the Indian Bureau's Realty Office since 1952. We have lost half the reservation forever. We have to face another supervised Bureau sale in November. The Tribe is only allowed to bid on a third of the allotments offered. Even that is not possible to us because we don't have the money to bid with and the Bureau has refused our request for a loan. We'll lose some of the best oil-land prospects in the State.” McKay Papers. 72. McKay Papers. 73. Letter to Mr. Sarnoff, Chairman of the Board, National Broadcasting Company,
455 Inc., Washington, D.C. dated 16 November 1959 from Iliff McKay, Secretary, Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, Browning, Montana. McKay Papers. 74. Letter to McKay dated 16 December 1959 from McCormick. McKay Papers. 75. Letter to McKay dated 25 March 1960 from Lester Bernstein, Vice President for Corporate Affairs, NBC, New York. McKay Papers.
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