Kasey Keeler on American Indian housing policy in the mid-20th century

February 7, 2017

Kasey Keeler, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies, has published an article in the Winter 2016 issue of Native American and Indigenous Studies titled "Putting People Where They Belong: American Indian Housing Policy in the Mid-Twentieth Century." Read an abstract of Dr. Keeler's article below:

In this article, I juxtapose the GI Bill of 1944 alongside the American Indian Relocation program. I critique Relocation as a policy more generally and argue that it must be examined as an Indian specific housing policy, an aspect of Relocation that is almost always ignored in lieu of a more-broad focus on urbanization that includes employment, discrimination, poverty, and return migrations. Further, I demonstrate how the GI Bill was a continuation of federal housing policies begun earlier in the century that worked to promote white homeownership, increasingly in suburbs, and often at the expense of people of color, including American Indian people. I examine how the GI Bill of 1944, as a proactive and effective housing policy that created new homeownership opportunities for many (white) veterans, spurring on suburban home construction, remained largely out of reach for American Indian veterans. In doing so I articulate the power of the federal government to create polices that essentially determine who should live where.

The explosion in new, suburban homes after WWII brings to the surface the inconsistencies in US housing policies for these two seemingly incongruent groups – American Indians and veterans – at virtually the same political moment. Nearly all veterans of WWII were entitled to the programs and services of the GI Bill, including its home loan benefit. However, access to the home loan portion of the GI Bill, including a federally guaranteed loan, a low interest rate, and a small down payment, was severely curtailed for American Indians. Instead, many Native veterans, faced with few options and a limited job market, had to decide between life on the reservation or to participate in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program at the war’s end. Unlike the GI Bill’s guarantee of a federally insured home loans to construct new suburban homes for white veterans, American Indians who participated in the Relocation Program were relocated to urban areas and housed in temporary venues that often-included shelters and run-down apartments with virtually no access to home ownership.