Permission granted

Ross’s request to Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) John Collier to visit and film in southwestern Indian reservations and pueblos was granted within a week. However, not long after having recommended Ross to his field agents as an “interesting and affording contact”, Collier received a terse note from his superior, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, telling him that Ross “is a Nazi”. The following week Collier qualified his message to his people in the field in the referenced memo of December 21, 1938.

Among this set of documents the December 21 memo is particularly interesting. Not merely because it captures the divergent views of Ross within the administration, but also because it reflects BIA Commissioner Collier’s ambiguous position. On the one hand, Collier duly warned his superintendants in the field of Ross’s Nazi connections. On the other, he was evidently reluctant to withdraw his permission, as he must have seen in Ross’s visit and film activities an opportunity to propagate his own policies. Moreover, he may well have been impressed by the ten editions of the 1935 book Amerikas Schicksalsstunde that Ross had mentioned in his letter of December 2. And if the two had indeed met personally on December 6, 1938, Ross would certainly have pointed out that he had devoted an entire section of that book to the Pueblo Indians—Collier’s “ideal Indians”—and written about the promises of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, for which Collier had lobbied hard. The absence of an English translation presumably allowed Collier to call Ross in this memo a man of “wide culture and intellectual endowment” with impunity.

Nico de Klerk

• John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,  Letter to Colin Ross; Washington, D.C., 1938 December 8

• John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,  Letter to Henry L. Newman, Field Agent, Mescalero Agency, Mescalero, NM [cc’ed to other agencies in the southwest]; Washington, D.C., 1938 December 8

• Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, Memorandum to John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Washington, D.C., 1938 December 12

• John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,  Memorandum to Superintendants Aberle, Newman, McCray, Hall, Wilson and Fryer; Washington, D.C., 1938 December 21, National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C. 5677405. Entry 178; box 15. Ross Dr. Colin...German Nazi propaganda in U.S. Colin Ross. Record Group 75 Office files of Commissioner John Collier. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. National Archives Bldg., Washington, D.C.

Topic: Indigenous peoples
Case: American journeys

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