The American Indian Chicago Conference: A Movement Within a Movement (by Jesal Pothi)


Grade 11-12 Students

1) Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

2) Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

3) Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

4) Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


The purpose of the lesson is to help students understand the universal reforms that Native Americans wanted in the mid 20th century as demonstrated through the proceedings in the American Indian Chicago Conference (AICC) and how these reforms contributed to the American Indian Movement. Students will analyze the proceedings of the conference and then evaluate it for its historical significance.


Students will be given a primary resource concerning the proceedings of the American Indian Chicago Conference. After reading the primary source, the students will have to interpret the document’s central ideas within the historical context within which it was produced. Because they will not be given much background information regarding Native American issues of the time period, they will have to make educated inferences and hypotheses about the causes and effects of this primary source. Along with learning the platform and motives of the American Indians during the American Chicago Conference, students will develop critical analysis and evaluation skills. These skills will give them an understanding of how communities of color, specifically Native Americans, analyze freedom, equality, equity, and social justice in the United States.


The reforms called for through the Declaration of Indian Purpose created at the American Indian Chicago conference, although very justified and long overdue, have not been completely met by the U.S. government.


  1. What specific obstacles did American Indians face that caused this Conference to be necessary?
  2. What argument are the members of the AICC making? What are the main ideas that make up the core of their argument?
  3. What legal arguments did the members of the Chicago Conference make to justify their legislative and regulatory proposals?
  4. Are the calls for reform that the members of the AICC making ones that are universal to all Native Americans’ grievances?
  5. Do you think that inequalities still exist between Native Americans and other U.S. citizens, and if so, why?


Termination– The policy of the United States form the mid-1940s to mid-1960s that set about ending the special relationship (provided government services without being citizens) between the tribes and the federal government. It was an attempt to assimilate Native Americans

Tribal Sovereignty– Tribes’ rights to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations

Bureau of Indian Affairs– An agency of the federal government of the United States within the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for the administration and management of 55.7 million acres of land held in trust by the U.S. for Native Americans and their tribes. The BIA’s problems were highlighted and protested throughout the American Indian Movement.

Relocation- The encouraging of Native Americans by the U.S. government to leave Indian reservations, acquire vocational skills, and assimilate into the U.S. population as laid out in the Indian Relocation Act of 1956

Self-determination– The social movements, legislation, and beliefs by which the tribes in the United States exercise self-governance and decision making on issues that affect their own people

Assimilation– The process by which Native Americans and Native Americans tribes acquire the American culture while simultaneously losing their way of life as intended through the termination policy issued by the U.S. government


The Native American race in the United States have had enough political, social, and economic woes to deal with ever since Europeans arrived in the United States in 1492. These struggles are still prominent today. In 1961, however, they finally decided to take a collective, organized stand against their oppressors. It was one of the first times that Native Americans from 460 Indians of 90 tribes—who were all common members of society and not elites—were able to congregate and discuss common issues and possible solutions. By the mid-twentieth century, the United States Government had not done enough to erase the inequalities that still existed between the Native Americans and the rest of the United States. Because of this, and their race, Native Americans faced obstacles in education, housing, health policy, welfare, and many other sectors. Due to the government’s inability, these grievances needed to be declared and addressed by Native Americans.

The American Indian Chicago Conference was a platform that the Indians were able to utilize to unite as a whole rather than attempting to create reform as individual tribes. These efforts really helped accelerate the American Indian Movement throughout the late 20th century. The source is significant as a historical document as it shows one of the first cases in which a diverse group of Native Americans was able to gather and provide concrete solutions for the issues they have been facing and present it to the President of the United States. The primary source acts as the final straw that the Native Americans issued the U.S. Government in order to reform their condition at that time. It was not an ultimatum; however, as the prose of the declaration was not contemptuous as it simply stated the legislation they wanted and offered to be involved in the process of implementation.

One of the primary grievances that the Native Americans had is the persistent attempt by the U.S. government to assimilate the Native American people and their tribes. Through the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, the U.S. government attempted to remove Indians from their reservations and assimilate them into the U.S. population. Then, through the termination policy, the U.S. government ended their recognition of sovereignty of tribes. Not only are they exiling from their homes, their culture, their way of life that they and their family have experienced their entire life, but they are also dictating how they are to live their life after they are taken out of their comfort zone.

As of now, tribes are placed within the constitutional fabric of the United States as dictated by Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution so that the government can continue to coordinate reform with them. The United States, however, no longer makes treaties with Indian tribes since 1871 in order to nullify any legislation the government would have to execute as dictated by previous treaties. The relationship with Indian tribes only survives through Congressional acts, Executive Orders, and Executive Agreements. This failure to honor treaties has left a sense bitterness between for the Native American peoples as can be seen through the Trail of Broken Treaties.



For the context of the assignment, let’s assume that the class schedule is identical to that of “All Power to the People” (TR 9:35-10:50) and that the activity will endure for three class periods.

Day 1 (First Tuesday): Learning How to Write a Critical Evaluation

In order to achieve an understanding of how communities of color, specifically Native Americans, analyze freedom, equality, equity, and social justice in the United States, students must know how to write a critical evaluation.

Explain to the students what a critical evaluation is and what it asks for. After this, utilize the source, “The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X as an example of a source that can be critically evaluated. Read the source as a class while simultaneously annotating the source for the type of information that the students should be looking for when reading a source for a critical evaluation. This should take up most of the class period. After this is done, hand out an example of a well-structured critical evaluation in response to this source to the class along with a rubric specified for the assignment. Inform the class that they will be writing a critical evaluation of the primary source, Declaration of Indian Purpose, which will be due in class the next Tuesday. Hand out the primary resource at the end of class and ask them to read it before the next class. Ask the class to determine the central ideas of the source and to provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Day 2 (First Thursday): The American Indian Chicago Conference

This is the class period in which you discuss the proceedings of the American Indian Chicago Conference.

Divide the class into 6 groups, each with a specific “legislative and regulatory proposal” (Resource and Economic Development, Health, Welfare, Housing, Education, and Law and Jurisdiction). The groups will then be asked to describe these sections of the text for what they say, interpret them for what they mean, and analyze them for their significance in a larger historical context. Because they will eventually have to write a critical evaluation for the entire source, this strategy of micro-evaluation will allow the students to learn how to create more in-depth analyses since the source is significantly smaller in size. It will also allow them to analyze how portions of a text contribute to the whole. Give each group about 40 minutes to complete this process. After they are done, give each group 3-5 minutes to share their evaluations to the class. While one group shares its evaluation, members of other groups are free to take any notes they may find useful. With the last five minutes of class remind that class that the assignment due Tuesday evaluates the entire source so the students will have to expand the depth and vigor of their evaluation to cover a larger base.

Day 3 (Second Tuesday): Aftermath of Evaluation

The final class will be utilized to tie everything together to achieve an essential understanding.

Before the class turns in their critical evaluation, ask them to pull out their summaries that they wrote after the first class. The students will then compare their findings in their summary to their critical evaluation in groups of four (they can make a Venn-diagram, or any other tool to find key similarities and differences between both approaches). This exercise is important as it identifies a key dichotomy between analyzing a source as a reader and analyzing a source as a historian. Give each group about 30 minutes to accomplish this task.

Remind the class that in order to analyze a source for its historical significance, its effects must also be analyzed. Facilitate a discussion amongst the class concerning the possible effects, short-term and long-term, of the Declaration of Indian Purpose. Limit this discussion to about 30 minutes. This time can also be utilized to discuss the impact of the AICC on the American Indian Movement as a whole Once, the discussion is completed, show the class the documentary “We are Still Here”—A Documentary on Today’s Young Americans (approximately 8 minutes long). With the end of the final class, remind the class that the course of history is unpredictable—for instance, in the video, the interviewees describe their lost sense of culture while the generations after them are experiencing a slow revival—but parts of it, like prominent racial movements, can be better understood through critical evaluations like the ones the class completed. By the end of the activity, they should understand how the Declaration of Indian Purpose may have changed the course of the American Indian Movement.


Tax, Sol. Declaration of Indian Purpose; the Voice of the American Indian. Chicago: [University of Chicago], 1961.

Deloria, Vine. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. New York: Macmillan Company, 1969.

“Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper – An Indian Manifesto.”

Hauptman, Laurence, and Jack Campisi. “The Voice of Eastern Indians: The American Indian Chicago Conference of 1961 and the Movement for Federal Recognition.” JSTOR.

Wilkinson, Charles F. “Red Power.” In Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: Norton, 2005

“Frequently Asked Questions: Indian Affairs.” US Department of the Interior: Indian Affairs.

“Native Americans.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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