The federal termination and restoration of the lands of the Paiute Indian Tribe illustrate the complicated relationship between state, federal, and tribal claims to land.
On September 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Public Law 83-762, which put an end both to federal supervision over the restricted property of Utah’s Paiute Indians, and to federal services for the tribe. The act’s most vocal proponent, US Senator Arthur Watkins of Utah, earlier claimed that the cessation of services and oversight would free the Paiutes from the “yoke” of federal supervision. For Watkins and other legislators, the Paiutes were being liberated to take care of their own affairs. Ironically, though, the government retained the potentially profitable rights to minerals under the Paiutes’ land.
The consequences of the law were disastrous for Utah’s Paiutes. The lands they had once ranged across before white colonization had long since been taken from them, offset by hollow promises of government oversight and assistance. Now the federal government was cutting all its protective connections to the Paiutes. Disease rates spiked as did cases of malnutrition and alcoholism. But the state’s Paiutes fought back, gaining a modest monetary settlement for their ancestral lands.
Then, in the 1970s, support began to build among policymakers for the restoration of the benefits and services the Paiutes had lost in 1954. Finally in 1980, after plenty of legislative wrangling, President Jimmy Carter signed a restoration bill into law and set the stage for the selection of reservation lands and a new start for Utah’s Paiute people.
Image: Paiute Restoration Gatherin, Cedar City, Utah. Dancing at the annual Paiute Restoration Gathering and Powwow, a yearly celebration of the federal restoration of the Paiute Tribe. Image courtesy of Visit Cedar City.
The full text of the Paiute Restoration Act. See also Ronald L. Holt, Beneath These Red Cliffs: An Ethnohistory of the Utah Paiutes (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 61-147; Gary Tom and Ronald Holt. “The Paiute Tribe of Utah,” in The History of Utah’s Indian Tribes, ed. Forrest Cuch (Salt Lake City: Utah Division of Indian Affairs and Utah State Division of History, 2000); and Martha Knack, Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775-1995 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 244-296.