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Defunct Relocation Policy Still Impacts American Indians

Rocky Mountain PBS

The Voluntary Relocation act of 1952 was designed to decrease government spending on reservation services by transitioning Native people to urban living in cities like Dallas, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles – and Denver.

Indian Termination and Relocation was a 1950s policy designed to stop U.S. government spending on reservation services and relocate American Indians to cities like Dallas, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles – and Denver.  

Editor's Note: The headline for this post has been corrected and now reads "Defunct Relocation Policy Still Impacts American Indians." The original headline, '"Termination and Relocation," Defunct Policy Still Impacts American Indians' should not have linked the words 'termination and relocation.' The error was derived from a source document from the Casey Foundation [.pdf] which mistakenly linked the two. The lede and the audio for this post was also changed to reflect this. We regret the errors.

The impact of that move on Native culture is still debated today.

By the time the relocation program ceased in 1973, about 150,000 American Indians had left reservations for urban areas. And now about 65 percent of American Indians live in cities across the United States. For many, the transition from reservation to urban life was a drastic change.

'We were just so confused, where we stood in this black and white world as Indian people.'

Urban Rez, a new documentary by Lisa Olken of Rocky Mountain PBS, shares the stories of numerous American Indians impacted by relocation, a government policy that is rarely discussed outside of the American Indian culture. 


Oglala Lakota tribe member Marilyn Pourier left the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and relocated to Dallas where she learned of tensions caused by the civil rights movement.

"We were just so confused, where we stood in this black and white world as Indian people," says Pourier in the documentary film Urban Rez.

Olken, who is white, worked with an American Indian film crew for three years on the project. 

Credit Rocky Mountain PBS
Film maker Lisa Olken, Director Larry Pourier/ Lakota; Director of Photography, Charles `Boots' Kennedye/ Kiowa and Production Assistant Derek Brown/ Diné.

Olken and Urban Rez crew traveled to reservations and urban areas and while there chronicled a story that is very different from the stereotypical American Indian narrative of land loss, poverty and scant resources. 

"This is American history. This is Denver, Colorado history. This is western history," says Olken. "And this is who we are as a people. We need to know this in order to move forward and treat everybody like human beings."

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS and KUVO.

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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