The Story of Two Unsung Heroes

Toward Self-Determination

Toward Self-Determination

Book Review

The Last Great Battle Of The Indian Wars: Henry M. Jackson, Forrest J. Gerard And The Campaign For The Self-Determination Of America’s Indian Tribes
by Mark Trahant | Cedars Group | 182 pp | $13.00
ISBN: 9780982758106

It has been said that the federal government has never really known what to do with American Indians. Furthermore, the relationship between American Indian tribes and the federal government has always been quite complex.

During the course of American history, the federal government developed what is called Federal Indian Policy. As time evolved, there have been various shifts in Federal Indian Policy, in accordance to how the federal government dealt with us. These shifts evolved, because the federal government discovered they could not kill our ancestors all off – Indians are both resilient and survivors. And, they still had to deal with us.

There reached a point when the federal government decided to terminate its relationship with certain Indian tribes, thus there was a Federal Indian Policy called the termination period, which was in essence a point of attempting to force assimilation on American Indians.

The termination period did not work.

Today, American Indians live under an era of Federal Indian Policy labeled self-determination.

How American Indians got to the self-determination period is examined by veteran journalist Mark N. Trahant in a book entitled, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars: Henry M. Jackson, Forrest J. Gerard and the Campaign for the Self-determination of America’s Indian Tribes.”

The book’s title alone is daunting, but do not despair. Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock), the former editor of the editorial page for the “Seattle Post-Intelligencer,” has been covering Indian Country for more than three decades, describes the shift in Federal Indian Policy in laymen terms that can be easily understood.

Henry M. Jackson was United States senator from Washington state, who is considered one of the greatest US senators of the past century because of his legislative skills in writing environmental policies that are still in place today.

Forrest J. Gerard, a Blackfeet, who grew up in Montana, flew a B-24 missions for the Air Force during World War II, came home and got a college education and landed in Washington DC, where he became a legislative aide to Senator Jackson.

Senator Jackson and Gerard formed a formidable team that went on to develop and write American Indian legislation that shifted Federal Indian Policy from the termination period to the self-determination era.

Trahant, who knows his way around Indian Country and Washington, supplies the backdrop to the various Washington players involved in the process from President Richard Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Senator Edward Kennedy, President Gerald R. Ford, Senator George McGovern, Senator James Abourezk, among others.

“The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars” provides interesting historic information that provide context as to why things happened the way they did in history. For instance, Trahant inserts a major reason why President Nixon was motivated to help move from the termination period to self-determination. Nixon’s coach at Whittier College, Wallace J. “Chief” Newman, who was an American Indian, who greatly influenced Nixon to keep trying to win even after you lose. But, please do not blame Watergate on Coach Newman.

“The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars” is well written and provides the background to the bridge between one Federal Indian Policy to the next. Trahant’s story of the Jackson and Gerard allow the reader to see two of the most two unsung heroes that helped to bring American Indians to where we are today.

Editor’s Note: Forrest J. Gerard passed away on Saturday, December 28, 2013.


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