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The Society of American Indians

Summary and Keywords

In 1911, a group of American Indian intellectuals organized what would become known as the Society of American Indians, or SAI. SAI members convened in annual meetings between 1911 and 1923, and for much of that period the Society’s executive offices were a hub for political advocacy, lobbying Congress and the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), publishing a journal, offering legal assistance to Native individuals and tribes, and maintaining an impressively voluminous correspondence across the country with American Indians, “Friends of the Indian” reformers, political allies, and staunch critics. Notable Native activists, clergy, entertainers, professionals, speakers, and writers—as well as Native representatives from on- and off-reservation communities—were active in the Society. They worked tirelessly to meet daunting, unrealistic expectations, principally to deliver a unified voice of Indian “public opinion” and to pursue controversial political goals without appearing too radical, especially obtaining U.S. citizenship for Indian individuals and allowing Indian nations to access the U.S. Court of Claims. They maintained their myriad activities with scant financial resources solely through the unpaid labor of dedicated Native volunteers. By 1923, the challenges exhausted the Society’s substantial human and miniscule financial capital. The Native “soul of unity” demanded by non-white spectators and hoped for by SAI leaders could no longer hold the center, and the SAI dissolved. Their work was not in vain, but citizenship and the ability to file claims materialized in circumscribed forms. In 1924 Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting birthright citizenship to American Indians, but citizenship for Indians was deemed compatible with continued wardship status. In 1946 Congress established an Indian Claims Commission, not a court, and successful claims could only result in monetary compensation, not regained lands.

Keywords: Red Progressives, American Indian activism, citizenship, intellectuals

In the early 1900s, Native Americans endeavored to assert their voices in public discourse as Native nations endeavored to assert inherent sovereign status.1 Native individuals and nations struggled to define themselves and hold their own against an onslaught of assimilationist policies and practices, resisting the exponentially expanding assertion of federal plenary powers over their lives, lands, resources, and property. Many American Indians had survived, and some had even thrived, within colonial educational institutions: mission schools, federal boarding and day schools, public schools, colleges, and universities. Often fluent and sometimes literate in their heritage language and culture, fluent and literate in English, accomplished orators and writers, powerful intellectuals and passionate political activists, they debated the terms and conditions of Indian identity, survival, and well-being as well as the terms and conditions of U.S. identity, national responsibility, democracy, and citizenship. In 1911, a core group of Native intellectuals, supported and assisted by non-Native allies, organized what would become known as the Society of American Indians. Notable Native commentators on their times who were active in the Society included: Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin (Ojibwa/French), Gertrude Bonnin/Zitkala-Ša (Yankton Sioux), Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), Sherman Coolidge (Arapaho), Charles Dagenett (Peoria), Angel DeCora (Winnebago), Philip J. Deloria (Lakota), Dr. Charles Eastman (Dakota), Laura Cornelius Kellogg (Oneida), Francis LaFlesche (Omaha), Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai Apache), John M. Oskison (Cherokee), Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), Thomas Sloan (Osage), and Henry Standing Bear (Lakota). Far from a homogenous group, they championed disparate visions of Indian peoples’ place within U.S. society and of Indigenous self-determination. For a decade, however, they rallied around common causes stated in the provisional platform of SAI (see Figure 1). The Society was, as Philip Deloria has described it, a distinctively multifaceted organization: activist, academic, political, social reformist, volunteer, collective, and intellectual.2

Table 1. Purpose of the Society of American Indians, Provisional Platform, 1911


To promote the good citizenship of the Indians of this country, to help in all progressive movements to this end, and to emulate the sturdy characteristics of the North American Indian, especially his honesty and patriotism.


To promote all efforts looking to the advancement of the Indian in enlightenment which leave him free, as a man, to develop according to the natural laws of social evolution.


To exercise the right to oppose any movement which appears detrimental to the race.


In all conferences and meetings of this Association, there shall be broad, free discussion of all subjects bearing upon the welfare of the race.


This association will direct its energies exclusively to general principles and universal interests, and will not allow itself to be used for any personal or private interests. The honor of the race and the good of the country will always be paramount.


It is the sense of this committee that every member of the association should exert his influence in every legitimate way to bring before each member of the race the necessity of promoting good citizenship.

Organizing and Meeting

Even though they did not always agree, Native intellectuals allied with one another and with non-Native educators, academics, reformers, philanthropists, missionaries, and Indian Office employees. Fayette Avery McKenzie, sociology professor at The Ohio State University, encouraged a group of Native intellectuals to meet in Columbus, Ohio, in April of 1911 to consider organizing “an Association of Indians, by Indians and for Indians.”3

The Society of American IndiansClick to view larger

Figure 1. The First Conference of the Society of American Indians.

Courtesy of the American Indian Studies Program, OSU.

Charles Eastman, Laura Cornelius, Charles Dagenett, Carlos Montezuma, Thomas Sloan, and Henry Standing Bear attended the first gathering, where they debated the nascent organization’s name. Sloan proposed “The Progressive Indian Association”; Dagenett preferred “The First American National Forward Movement”; but late the second day Cornelius’s suggestion of “The American Indian Association” carried the day. The first pamphlets advertising the organization and the materials of the First Annual Conference carried the imprimatur of The American Indian Association (AIA). A Temporary Executive Committee composed of the six present in April 1911 articulated purposes of AIA that endured throughout the life of the organization: to promote good citizenship of American Indians; emulate his honesty and patriotism; pursue enlightenment and social evolution; oppose detrimental movements; encourage open and free discussion in all meetings; promote general principles and universal interests; encourage every member to exert his influence.4 In June 1911 a larger group met at Cornelius’s Wisconsin home to establish terms for membership and to plan for a conference. McKenzie enlisted support from President Thompson of Ohio State, as well as Columbus’ mayor, civic, and religious leaders and they invited the Association to hold its first general meeting in Columbus, around Columbus Day.

The first annual meeting was held from October 12th through the 15th, 1911, in Columbus, Ohio, under the name The American Indian Association. The “Constitution & Laws of the Society of American Indians,” published in 1912, formally changed the name to the Society of American Indians.5 The Society’s official publication, The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, proclaimed in its first issue that, “The Society of American Indians … affords both the native American and the American who has become so because he has found on these shores a land of freedom, the means for cooperation.”6 The Society held annual meetings every year from 1911 through 1923 except in 1917, when conflict over U.S. intervention in World War I led the leadership to cancel that year’s meeting. See Figure 2 for a list of dates and venues of Society of American Indians (SAI) annual meetings. United by some issues and bitterly divided by others, SAI leadership and members came together for thirteen years before the Society dissolved.7 The principal platform planks that united SAI were advocacy for U.S. birthright citizenship for American Indians and tribal access to the U.S. Court of Claims. Divisive issues included the contested value of continued Indigenous cultural vitality; the role of SAI as a legal aid society to support or pursue court cases; the sacramental use of peyote in the Peyote Faith; and religious and tribal differences among the active members.

Table 2. Sites of SAI’s Annual Meetings, 1911–1923

1911 Columbus, Ohio

1918 Pierre, South Dakota

1912 Columbus, Ohio

1919 Minneapolis, Minnesota

1913 Denver, Colorado

1920 St. Louis, Missouri

1914 Madison, Wisconsin

1921 Detroit, Michigan

1915 Lawrence, Kansas

1922 Kansas City, Kansas

1916 Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1923 Chicago, Illinois

1917 Cancelled (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

Platform of SAI

The founders of Society of American Indians (SAI) took to heart a central purpose of speaking up for American Indian peoples:

The time has come when the American Indian race should contribute, in a more united way, its influence and exertion with the rest of the citizens of the United States in all lines of progress and reform; for the welfare of the Indian race in particular, and humanity in general.8

Others, such as Robert G. Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who addressed the fifty-some Native delegates on the first evening of what he termed an “epochal” meeting in 1911, voiced a more daunting expectation. Valentine directed SAI to distill a unified opinion out of the myriad complexities of life in Indian country: “We need an All-Indian public opinion.”9 As unrealistic as Valentine’s expectation was, SAI stepped up to embrace the challenge. In the first issue of the journal, the editor Arthur C. Parker answered the question: Why have we organized? In order “to secure in a united expression of Indian opinion … secure the rights and demand the reforms affecting Indian interests … criticize and perhaps destroy the forces that have been used against the highest interests of the race and … suggest more just measures and demand the creation of more honest and efficient administration of Indian affairs.”10 Bureaucratic desires to simplify Indigenous complexity for the convenience of settler colonial authority, and SAI’s remarkable optimism about the possibilities of unified and homogenous accord were doomed to disappointment. Papers from the first meeting articulated a wide diversity of opinions as members grappled with Native identity, tribal self-determination, and the Native place within U.S. society.

Speakers alternately denigrated and praised “traditional” life; shied away from or embraced modernity; and critiqued or supported U.S. Indian policy. Whatever their position, they spoke to their immediate audience and later, to the audiences reached by their publications, with passion and conviction: their convictions covered a broad range. Charles Doxon, an Onondaga teacher and mechanic, described how he began his schooling at age twenty-one “just coming out of a primitive state of influences,” while Laura Cornelius declared “I am not the new Indian; I am the old Indian adjusted to new conditions.”11 Arthur C. Parker urged recognition of the “fact” that “viewed ethnologically, the so-called civilization of the whites was a distinct advance.”12 Accomplished artist Angel DeCora Dietz promoted the Native design classes she had introduced at Carlisle Indian School even as she lauded the “highest order” of art reached by the ancient Greeks and Italians, “models for the whole world.”13 John M. Oskison, Cherokee writer and editor, proclaimed “I’ve tried (in my small way) to make myself an interpreter, to the world, of the modern, progressive Indian … Now I’ll write fiction about cowboys, make ‘em yip-yip and shoot their forty-fours till everybody’s deaf, but I’ll be damned if I’ll repeat the old lies about the Indian for any editor that ever paid on acceptance!”14 Even more radical than Oskison, judge Hiram Chase foreshadowed judicial arguments that gained currency decades later. “Upon the Indian Question, I belong to that class which believe that the reproaches upon the government for the abuses in Indian Affairs, the retarded progress in civilization and the unhappy prospects of our people is due to Indian policies, founded on false doctrines, and in the disregard of our treaties, and upon laws the constitutionality of which are questionable.” Chase argued that a Native nation is “a distinct political society capable of managing its own affairs, and governing itself,” that state laws can have no force upon Indians residing on reservation, and that Indians should question the validity of any Congressional law that impairs or destroys treaty rights.15

Approximately one thousand delegates (about half and half Native and non-Native) attended the third conference in Denver, where the platform remained stable (See Figure 1). SAI argued for—in rank order of priority—passage of the Carter Code Bill to clarify legal status; passage of the amended Stephens Bill enabling tribes to argue claims directly in the Court of Claims without specific Congressional approval for each case; apportionment of tribal funds to individual accounts; and improvements in education and sanitary protection. A pamphlet probably co-authored by Parker and Sherman Coolidge asserted: “There is no hope in the past, it is dead. Life lies ahead; look ahead; plan ahead.”16 The call to turn to the future rather than the past did not mean that SAI turned its back on Native people scattered across reservations and rural communities. While prioritizing the fight for U.S. citizenship and Court of Claims access, every annual meeting was also marked by a list of grass-roots issues that had involved the Society over the past year.

The Work of the Society and Its Members

Proceedings from the second, third, and fourth annual conferences document Society of American Indians’ (SAI) attention to and involvement in individual and local concerns. In 1912, the meeting platform stated official positions that: the United States should sell Jicarilla Apache timber given their “desperate condition”; Pueblo Indians should not surrender their land titles to become wards, they should uphold their citizenship; the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) should determine Mescalero Apache title to their reservation so it could not be signed away through Executive Order as a forest reserve or national park; Congress and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs should institute restitution of lands to Turtle Mountain Chippewa and remedy the deplorable land conditions in Minnesota, especially on White Earth; Congress should appropriate money for the Census Bureau to compile statistics on Indians; New York should carefully consider Cayuga claims for lands sold by the state; and SAI deplored the failure of Palm Beach, Florida, to apprehend and prosecute the murderer of DeSoto Tiger.17 In 1913, SAI called for complete reorganization of the Indian School system, and critiqued the OIA’s failure to provide for six thousand Navajo and Papago students.18 In 1914, Sherman Coolidge pointed out successful SAI assistance to Apaches held as POWs in Oklahoma; to Mr. Shields, acting principal of an Oklahoma school whose appointment initially went to a white man; and to a Native woman in Montana petitioning to receive her individual monies.19

By 1915 criticisms of the OIA’s mismanagement of Indian lands and resources, as well as outcry over the ambiguity of Indian status, were at the forefront of public debates on the “Indian problem.” Parker ridiculed the notion that ambiguous Indian legal status made government protection obligatory, and turned the proposition on its head. “I should rather say that it IS THE LACK OF LEGAL STATUS THAT MAKES THE TASK SO ARDUOUS and complex.” Second on Parker’s list of pressing issues: tribes could not enter claims suits in the U.S. Court of Claims. Parker acknowledged that by rights the OIA, as trustee of Indian assets, ought to prosecute these claims but he was cynical about OIA intent and practice. “If it fails to do this is it an efficient trustee and an honest guardian? As a matter of fact the government owes the Indian millions of dollars.”20 Parker blasted the Indian Office, contaminated by self-serving interest groups, for failing to distinguish or implement functions of trusteeship:

The Indian Bureau … is the laboratory for man-making. Here are brewed the theories, here are concocted the elixirs, here are compounded the panaceas. In the middle of one experiment, the chemist is shifted. His crucible is drenched with a land grabber’s chloroform, a clever politician throws in a pork hoof, a mining interest casts in some steel shavings and the stockman mixes in a lump of cyanide. A new Commissioner steps to the task, tries to clear the table and serves the compound, mixed with his own healing balm. The red man swallows the dose. Alas, too many chemists have spoiled the elixir and Poor Lo is put in the cauldron and boiled over again.21

In his critique of the abuses of federal trusteeship, Parker highlighted the economic rationales that motivated SAI’s advocacy for citizenship as a cure for wardship. Whether the targets of wardship or trusteeship, Indian people and nations were subject to extreme federal plenary powers and fiscal mismanagement (from a Native perspective; federal management did yield significant gains for itself, the states, and non-Native citizens).22 Economic issues were instrumental in SAI arguments for U.S. citizenship, but not all SAI intellectuals searched for solutions to Native economic development in U.S. society.

Laura Cornelius Kellogg proposed an innovative, provocative model for economic development she called the Lolomi Plan.23 Kellogg mercilessly indicted white so-called civilization, then equally mercilessly condemned the shortcomings of Indians, before presenting her “final solution … to the whole Indian situation.”24 Kellogg proposed “the hardest-headed kind [of] BUSINESS”: Native societies should incorporate into industrial communities exercising culturally grounded economic decision-making. The Lolomi Plan proposed that: (1) in order to avoid domination of the rich, every shareholder has one vote, regardless of the number of shares they hold; (2) no one can sell assets, in other words, transfer stock; (3) members pool assets and achieve fee simple title. 25 Kellogg proposed to end the ambiguity of Indians’ tax status; eliminate the unconstitutional (in her analysis) ward/semi-citizen status; and allow Native communities to develop natural resources themselves. The plan required access to credit and capital investment; education for leadership, not boarding school training for subservience; and the economic development of outdoor pursuits such as agriculture, horticulture, and ranching. Kellogg concluded: “It looks like a long way between Wall Street and the Reservations, but it is not very far.”26 Kellogg imagined possibilities that straddled mainstream capitalist structures and Indigenous models of management, but the Lolomi Plan never gained traction, possibly because Kellogg saw reservations as permanent “place(s) of opportunity.”27 The possibility of full integration as U.S. citizens sought by many SAI intellectuals seemed to deny the possibility of durable Native-governed land bases anchoring Native-controlled economic development.

In addition to the annual meeting, publishing a journal constituted a central production of the Society. Appearing as the The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians from 1913 to 1915, the name changed to The American Indian Magazine from 1916 to 1920.

The Society of American IndiansClick to view larger

Figure 2. The Autumn 1917 issue of The American Indian Magazine.

Courtesy of the American Indian Studies Program, OSU.

Arthur C. Parker served as the first editor-general of the Quarterly, dedicated to making it “an ‘organ’ that would unite Native Americans across tribal and political boundaries.”28 Parker worked with five contributing editors (Cloud, Coolidge, Howard Gansworth, Tuscarora, Montezuma, and Oskison) to live up to the journal’s masthead aspiration of serving “The honor of the race and the good of the country.”29 The editors worked scrupulously to preserve the independence of the journal from the influence and financial support of the OIA and of private advertisers. Articles represented a range of viewpoints within the Society, but Parker and other authors frequently wrote about Native rights to education and birthright citizenship from a consistent perspective of American Indians “As the coming race, not a vanishing one.”30 Parker used the Quarterly Journal to promote a resolution from the 1915 Annual Conference to celebrate “American Indian Day” on the second Saturday of every May; he also corresponded with hundreds of local and school officials around the country as he campaigned for the day.31 Increasingly partisan debates and personalized attacks gradually destabilized the Society and alienated Parker; Gertrude Bonnin took over as editor of the journal in the fall of 1918.

Organizational Challenges and Decline

Society of American Indians (SAI) President Sherman Coolidge called for harmony in his opening address to the 1912 annual meeting:

[L]et us meet together and discuss our papers and guide our efforts toward this lofty purpose, that our people, wherever necessary, can come together as Indians, and, by a harmonious putting aside of personal difference for the good of both, come before Congress and the people of the United States in a cohesive way and make ourselves heard and felt. Let us have harmony. Without that, we can do nothing. We will divert our aim and our purpose and destroy the basis of our organized existence if we don’t curb our selfish, clannish spirit and stand solid and united.32

The Society was riven by internal tensions, but it would be a disservice to ignore the external pressures and infrastructural challenges facing the Society and to attribute its decline merely to Native “clannishness.” It would be criminal to accuse the officers and members of selfishness, given their extraordinary investment of unpaid labor in the work of the Society and its journal.

The Society of American IndiansClick to view larger

Figure 3. Attendees of the Second Annual Conference of the Society of American Indians at Ohio State University (OSU), October 5, 1912.

Courtesy of the American Indian Studies Program, OSU.

Observers inside and outside the Society, and many scholars since, commented on how much work fell on the shoulders of so few. Fayette McKenzie noted in correspondence that A. C. Parker was supposed to receive a salary of $2,000 per year for his work as secretary-treasurer and journal editor, but that he received only $200 to $300 from the Society over two to three years. Correspondence reveals that members, notably Richard Henry Pratt, would periodically send Parker five to ten dollars to help cover the costs of printing and postage. McKenzie praised Parker for refusing a raise at his museum job so he could do the Society’s work at considerable personal sacrifice. The SAI archive demonstrates Parker’s prodigious investment of labor in correspondence and the journal. Recently feminist scholars have pointed to the women who have not received as much attention, perhaps in part because they did not leave personal papers to be archived. The Society’s first secretary, Rosa Bourassa LaFlesche (Chippewa), was acknowledged by Parker as a tireless worker but she was never paid: she could not maintain the pace and resigned.33 Marie Baldwin in 1913 “held a full-time job with the Indian Office, was enrolled in law school, and was deeply and enthusiastically involved in the Society of American Indians.”34 In 1915 the position of Secretary-Treasurer was split to relieve Parker of some work, and Baldwin was elected Treasurer. Parker and Baldwin worked together amicably, but Baldwin later clashed with Gertrude Bonnin. Intertribal tensions and strong personalities did fracture some SAI relationships, but among the strongest divisive forces were the accusations—most notably by Carlos Montezuma—that Natives who worked for the Indian Office could not be loyal to SAI. The criticisms stung employees who had worked very hard to achieve professional status; Baldwin, for example, worked for the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) first as a clerk, then an auditor, and finally an attorney. Montezuma went so far as to accuse OIA employees of being traitors to their race. Employees such as Dagenett, Baldwin, LaFlesche, and Bonnin protested but many eventually chose to leave SAI’s ranks. By 1918 their departure enabled the Society’s “radicals” to successfully vote to include “the abolishment of the Indian Bureau in its platform.”35 Bonnin remained active in the Society, however, especially in efforts to criminalize peyote, another controversial issue. Bonnin “became a member of the advisory board in 1916, SAI secretary for 1917–1918, secretary-treasurer for 1918–1919, and editor of AIM for 1918–1919.”36

Nonexistent salaries were one clue to the Society’s financial precariousness. Various schemes for encouraging and collecting dues from active (Native) and associate (non-Native) members were discussed at the annual meetings, and at several meetings officers passed the hat to raise money for the journal and other expenses. Dennison Wheelock led a suggestion to organize the Society like a fraternal organization with subordinate chapters around the country, the chapters to assume the costs of sending delegates to the meeting. Wheelock also pitched the idea of organizing tribes as auxiliary units, with the rationale that if SAI represented tribes, they could petition Congress for financial support. Resistance to being in Congress’ pocket scuttled that idea and the fraternal organization suggestion went nowhere, as did an appeal to the Indian Office, “knowing as they did the financial standing of every Indian in the United States,” requesting a list of Indian students and Indian individuals of means so SAI could canvass for donations.37

Significant infrastructural challenges stemmed from the broad diversity of requests for assistance, information, advice, or direction that landed on SAI’s doorstep. SAI was the first organization of its kind, created by Native people to express a single Native voice at a time when American Indians were under siege and battling to express many voices on many issues across the country. The years after 1925 would witness the emergence of a plethora of Native professional organizations such as the National Council of American Indians and the National Congress of American Indians, but at the beginning, there was only SAI. SAI struggled to support a legal aid office but the demands exponentially outweighed their resources. Just figuring out how to incorporate the views of visitors to the annual meetings was vexing. In 1914, for example, a group of young Chippewa men arrived from the “Court d’Orielle” (Lac Courte Oreilles) tribe in Wisconsin. One of their tribal members, educated at Haskell Institute, had encouraged them to “make a talk” to SAI for the benefit of their tribe, “and we thought it was our duty to come. We came.” Not sure how to proceed, the tribal representatives admitted, “We are much handicapped. We don’t know what to say.” After a long and contentious discussion, SAI members moved to establish a committee to hear testimony or complaints from tribal representatives at “a later time.”38

The last years of the Society were marked by deepening rifts among the active members: between those arguing to criminalize the “drug” peyote and supporters of the Peyote Faith (by 1918 incorporated as the Native American Church);39 between Catholics and Protestants; between those who wished to abolish the Indian service and those who wished to reform it; between those who allied within and those who competed across tribal lines; between “progressives” anxious to surrender Native cultures as fading, disposable relics of a proud past and “traditionalists” determined to preserve a dynamic Native identity in the modern world. Attendance at the annual meeting declined dramatically; by 1921 only eight active and associate members attended a meeting billed as the “International Convention of American Indians—8 days under the auspices of the National Society of American Indians–Grand Council! Big Pow Wow!”40 The last so-called meeting of SAI was an encampment near Chicago where Indians appeared not as professionals and intellectuals, but as featured entertainment.41 SAI’s tenure as an organized Society was brief (1911–1923), but included passionate dedication by its officers, significant production of correspondence and publications now preserved in its papers, and an enduring legacy of political, legal, and intellectual activism.

Discussion of the Literature

The period from roughly 1880 to 1930 encompassed rapid, violent impacts on American Indians: colonial expansion to the Pacific coast, confinement to reservations, allotment of lands, egregious expansion of Congressional plenary powers, dispossession and economic marginalization that led to malnutrition, vulnerability to tuberculosis and trachoma as well as the 1918 flu pandemic, and extraction of children to institutional boarding schools. Despite the systematic oppressions of colonialism, Native peoples steadfastly and creatively carried on, eking out ways to survive and carving out spaces to thrive. A rich range of scholarship has considered this tumultuous era, although a rather narrow stream has focused upon the Society of American Indians (SAI). Hazel Hertzberg’s The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements was published in 1971.42 Until recently, Hertzberg’s analysis remained the primary scholarly source on the “Red Progressives” and SAI. Published well before the 1987 Papers of the SAI microfilm project, Hertzberg’s volume laid the descriptive groundwork of how SAI searched for “some workable definition” of remaining Indian in the modern world.43 In 1984, Frederick Hoxie proposed a new paradigm to understand U.S.-Indian relations on the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.44 Hoxie marked a turn in interpretation, challenging earlier assumptions that assimilation’s promise—a place for Indians as equals in U.S. society—had the potential to be fulfilled. Hoxie felt that U.S. federal policy, reform movements, and public sentiment took a pessimistic turn in the early 20th century, linked to the rise of race-based ideology, circumscribing Indian participation in U.S. life based on notions of racial inferiority. SAI and the Red Progressives appear in Hoxie’s narrative but are not as central a focus as in Tom Holm’s more recent analysis of the Progressive era.45 Holm begins with Fayette Avery McKenzie’s fierce certainty that the Indian’s ambiguous legal status was “one of the fundamental reasons for the great confusion in Indian policies” and for U.S. failure to “solve” the Indian problem.46 The fight for U.S. citizenship, which culminated in the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, played out through what Holm terms the Progressive era’s transition period of confusion, bracketed by earlier assimilationist agendas and later New Deal reform policies. Lucy Maddox considers the politics of performance by “citizen Indians” and Indian intellectuals in the Progressive era. Maddox delineates the “impossible task” that faced SAI: “to articulate positions that were, inevitably, highly charged politically and yet to do so without taking the kinds of clearly defined political stances that might alienate any of their major constituencies, white as well as Indian.”47 Lomawaima, drawing on Patrick Wolfe’s history of settler colonialism and Aziz Rana’s political science analysis of the construction of U.S. citizenship, takes a different view of SAI’s advocacy for the Indian Citizenship Act.48 Lomawaima argues that the mutually exclusive opposition of ward versus citizen constructed by McKenzie and others was a false dichotomy, and the Indian Citizenship Act offered a false promise of full citizenship to Indians. In reality, Supreme Court decisions and Congressional policy ensured that federal guardian powers over Indian wards were not disempowered by “citizenship” so that plenary powers and U.S. claims to Native lands could continue unencumbered.

The trajectory of scholarship on the SAI and Red Progressives from 1971 to the present has been punctuated by a series of biographies examining the lives of individual SAI intellectuals, as well as reissues of publications by SAI intellectuals as monographs and as excerpts in edited literary anthologies. Biographers include Hauptman on Laura Kellogg; Iverson and Martinez on Carlos Montezuma; Porter on Arthur C. Parker; Tetzloff and Pfister on Henry Roe Cloud; and Waggoner on Angel De Cora.49 SAI members such as Gertrude Bonnin and Charles Eastman have been widely anthologized and their books reprinted frequently; other voices appear in Hoxie’s Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era.50

The most recent scholarship on SAI was published in 2013 in a special combined issue of Studies in American Indian Literatures and American Indian Quarterly co-edited by Chadwick Allen and Beth Piatote. The special issue resulted from the Society of American Indians Centennial Symposium, organized by Allen, faculty member at The Ohio State University. The symposium was held over the 2011 Columbus Day weekend at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, marking the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the SAI and its first national conference. Drawing together nearly one hundred Native and non-Native scholars, the symposium’s workshops, plenary sessions, social events, and dawn visit to the monumental Newark Earthworks marked an exciting, revitalizing moment in the scholarship of the Red Progressives of SAI. Authors in the special issue reconsider individuals in their times, including Marie Baldwin, Laura Kellogg, Carlos Montezuma, Gertrude Bonnin, and Henry Roe Cloud; they closely examine the Society’s journal; they interrogate issues of identity, citizenship, federal powers, place-making and place marking, race relations, political activism, the controversies that divided SAI; and they chart important milestones in a centuries-long trajectory of Indigenous intellectual history.

Primary Sources

Society of American Indians (SAI) published a journal known as the Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians from 1913 to 1915; and as The American Indian Magazine from 1916 to 1920. The journals are available on microfiche in many university libraries.

The Papers of the Society of American Indians, edited by John W. Larner Jr., are published on ten rolls of microfilm (Wilmington, DE: Scholar Resources, 1987).Report of the Executive Council on the Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the SAI (Washington, DC, 1912);Report of the Executive Council on the Proceedings of the First-Third Annual Conferences of the SAI (Washington, DC, 1912–1915).

The Papers contain fifty-six hundred items of SAI-relevant materials (correspondence, organizational documents, publications, and programs from the annual meetings) from forty-five repositories, dated from 1906 to 1946. The Papers do not include the journal publications or two hard-back publications of the Society, the and the

Personal papers of notable SAI members are archived at diverse university libraries, local archives, and the National Archives. Archives listed below are not necessarily sole repositories, but contain substantive collections: Gertrude Bonnin papers (Brigham Young University and the National Archives); Henry Roe Cloud papers (Roe Family Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University, and the National Archives); Fayette McKenzie papers (Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville); Carlos Montezuma papers (Newberry Library, Chicago, and the Labriola Center, Arizona State University Hayden Library); and Arthur C. Parker papers (University of Rochester).

Further Reading

Allen, Chadwick, and Beth H. Piatote, eds. Special Combined Issue: The Society of American Indians and Its Legacies. Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2 and American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013).Find this resource:

    Bonnin, Gertrude (Zitkala-Ša). American Indian Stories. Washington, DC: Hayworth Publishing House, 1921.Find this resource:

      Eastman, Charles. From the Deep Woods to Civilization. Boston: Little, Brown, 1902.Find this resource:

        Eastman, Charles. Indian Boyhood. New York: McClure, Philips, 1916.Find this resource:

          Hertzberg, Hazel. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1971.Find this resource:

            Hoxie, Frederick E., ed. Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era. Boston: Bedford, 2001.Find this resource:

              Iverson, Peter. Carlos Montezuma and the Changing World of American Indians. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.Find this resource:

                Kellogg, Laura Cornelius. Our Democracy and the American Indian: A Comprehensive Presentation of the Indian Situation as It Is Today. Kansas City, MO: Burton, 1920.Find this resource:

                  Maddox, Lucy. Citizen Indians: Native American Intellectuals, Race, and Reform. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                    Martinez, David. Dakota Philosopher: Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                      Porter, Joy. To Be Indian: The Life of Iroquois-Seneca Arthur C. Parker. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                        Tetzloff, Jason M. “To Do Some Good among the Indians: Henry Roe Cloud and Twentieth-Century Native America.” PhD diss., Purdue University, 1996.Find this resource:

                          Waggoner, Linda M. Fire Light: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.Find this resource:


                            (1.) There is no ideal collective term to refer to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Whenever possible, terms of self-identification are used, such as Diné, Tohono O’odham, or Haudenosaunee (such terms have changed over time; in such cases, I use self-ascriptions used in the historical record). Native, Native American, American Indian, Indian, and Indigenous are used interchangeably for collective reference.

                            (2.) Philip J. Deloria, “Four Thousand Invitations,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 23–43.

                            (3.) Notes of First Meeting April 3, 1911, Fayette Avery McKenzie Papers. Papers of the Society of American Indians, Roll 10.

                            (5.) Constitution and Laws, Art I sec. 1, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (6.) April 15, 1913, Volume 1.1, no page number.

                            (7.) Gregory D. Smithers, “The Soul of Unity: The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, 1913–1915,” in The Society of American Indians and Its Legacies: A Special Combined Issue, ed. C. Allen and P. H. Piatote. Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013): 263–289.

                            (8.) “The American Indian Association: Purpose,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (9.) “The Need of Indian Public Opinion,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (10.) Editorial comment, The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians 1.1 (April 15, 1913), 7.

                            (11.) “The Indian as a Skilled Mechanic,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9; SAI, Report of the Executive Council on the Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the SAI (Washington, DC, 1912), 92.

                            (12.) “The Philosophy of Indian Education 1492,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (13.) “Native Indian Art,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (14.) “The Indian in the Professions,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (15.) “The Law and the American Indian in the United States,” Publications, Papers, Roll 9.

                            (16.) “The SAI: A National Organization of Indians” [no date], Publications, Papers, Roll 10. On January 19, 1912 Congressman Charles D. Carter (a “noted Indian”), at SAI suggestion, introduced House Bill #18334 “to create an Indian Code Commission to codify the laws” regarding taxed versus non-taxed Indians, and to define Indian status more exactly (Fayette A. McKenzie, “The Indian and Citizenship,” [Washington, DC: SAI, 1912], 9–10.)

                            (17.) Platform of the Second Annual Conference of SAI, 1912, Papers, Roll 10.

                            (18.) Platform of the Third Annual Conference of the SAI, 1913, Papers, Roll 10.

                            (19.) Proceedings of Fourth Annual Conference of the SAI, 1914, Papers, Roll 10.

                            (20.) A. C. Parker, “The American Indian, the Government, and the Country: A Plan for an Efficient Indian Service,” The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians 4.1 (1915), Papers, Roll 10.

                            (21.) Ibid., 46.

                            (22.) Legal definitions differ substantively for the trustee/beneficiary relationship and the guardian/ward relationship. Guardians—like parents—may hold broader powers over wards than trustees hold over beneficiaries; and may not be held to the fiduciary responsibility of trustees to manage assets to the advantage of the beneficiary.

                            (23.) The plan was first presented as a paper at the 1911 SAI meeting and was published as Our Democracy and the American Indian: A Comprehensive Presentation of the Indian Situation as It Is Today (Kansas City, MO: Burton Publishers, 1920).

                            (24.) Kellogg, Our Democracy, 38.

                            (25.) Ibid., 39.

                            (26.) Ibid., 103.

                            (27.) Kristina Ackley, “Laura Cornelius Kellogg, Lolomi, and Modern Oneida Placemaking,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 117.

                            (28.) Gregory D. Smithers, “The Soul of Unity: The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, 1913–1915,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 263.

                            (29.) Ibid., 266.

                            (30.) Maddox, L. Citizen Indians: Native American Intellectuals, Race, and Reform (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 48.

                            (31.) Papers, Roll 9.

                            (32.) Sherman Coolidge, “Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference of the SAI, Opening Address,” The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians 1.2 (April–June 1913), 117–118.

                            (33.) Cathleen D. Cahill, “Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin: Indigenizing the Federal Indian Service,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 63–86.

                            (34.) Cahill, “Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin,” 74.

                            (35.) Hazel W. Hertzberg, The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1971), 175.

                            (36.) Thomas C. Maroukis, “The Peyote Controversy and the Demise of the Society of American Indians,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 27.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 168.

                            (37.) SAI, Proceedings of Fourth Annual Conference, 1914, Papers, Roll 10.

                            (39.) Maroukis, “The Peyote Controversy.”

                            (40.) Advertisement on the cover of American Indian Tepee, 1921, Vol. 2.3.

                            (41.) Hertzberg, The Search for an American Indian Identity.

                            (43.) Ibid., 22.

                            (44.) Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

                            (45.) Tom Holm, The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs: Native Americans and Whites in the Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005).

                            (46.) Fayette Avery McKenzie, “The Indian and His Problem,” The Dial 49.588 (1910), 230.

                            (47.) Maddox, Citizen Indians, 166.

                            (48.) K. Tsianina Lomawaima, “The Mutuality of Citizenship and Sovereignty: The Society of American Indians and the Battle to Inherit America,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25.2/American Indian Quarterly 37.3 (2013), 331–351.

                            (49.) See Further Readings for Iverson, Martinez, Porter, Tetzloff, and Waggoner; Lawrence M. Hauptman, “Designing Woman: Minnie Kellogg, Iroquois Leader,” in Indian Lives: Essays on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Native American Leaders, ed. L.G. Moses and R. Wilson (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985); Joel Pfister, The Yale Indian: The Education of Henry Roe Cloud (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

                            (50.) Frederick E. Hoxie, Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001).