The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 has been generally acknowledged as the most important statute affecting Native Americans after the General Allotment Act of 1887, and it is probably the most important single statute affecting Native Americans during the two-thirds of a century since its passage. Over half the Native governments in the contemporary U.S. are organized under its provisions or under separate statutes that parallel the IRA in major ways. Although the impact of the IRA has been widely studied and debated, no scholar until now has looked closely at the forces that shaped its creation and passage. Author Elmer Rusco spent over a decade of research in national and regional archives and other repositories to examine the legislative intent of the IRA, including the role of issues like the nature and significance of judge-made Indian law; the allotment policy and its relation to Indian self-government; the nature of Native American governments before the IRA; the views and actions of John Collier, commissioner of Indian Affairs and leader in the campaign to reform the nation's Indian policy; and the influence of relations between the president and Congress during the second year of the New Deal. Rusco also discusses the role of conflicting ideologies and interests in this effort to expand the rights of Native Americans; the general ignorance of Native American concerns and policy on the part of legislators engaged in the writing and passage of the law; and the limited but crucial impact of Indian involvement in the struggle over the IRA.
Elmer R. Rusco is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1998, he was honored by the Reno/Sparks chapter of the NAACP with a Lifetime Achievement Award for African American History.