Indian Relocation Act of 1956

Choctaw Removals: Indian Urban Relocation Program

Iti Fabvssa

June 3, 2024

Today, the Choctaw Nation has over 225,000 tribal members with more than three quarters of our members living outside the Choctaw Nation Reservation. Many families have their own stories of why they voluntarily or involuntarily left, however one of the most common stories involves moving to large cities. This month, Iti Fabvssa will delve into a later government sponsored removal for Choctaw people, the Bureau of Indian Affair (BIA)‘s Indian Urban Relocation Program.

In 1940, the U.S. Government realized that it had not succeeded in its goal of assimilating Native people to the American way of life. Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, Congress passed laws in the effort to end its relationship with tribal nations through Indian Termination. Termination would end federal recognition of tribal governments, eliminate government support for tribal nations and end protection status of Indian-owned lands (National Archives, 2023). Although Choctaw Nation was not part of the original Termination legislation, it had its own brush with similar legislation with the federal government ending assistance for things like healthcare, education, utilities, fire and police.

To further assimilate Native people, Congress passed the Indian Relocation Act in 1956. The goal of this legislation was to create vocational training programs for Native people, which would involve moving them from their communities to large urban cities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs began the Indian Urban Relocation Program to assist relocating Indian families. Indian families were moved to major cities like: Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angelas, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, San Fransisco, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, Tulsa, and others. From 1950 to 1968, over 200,000 Native people were removed. Before 1956, only 6% of Native people were living in big cities and by the year 2000, more than 64% of Native people lived in big cities (National Archives, 2023).

The Indian Urban Relocation program offered relocation assistance in the form of housing, employment, transportation, vocational training, medical insurance, and other incentives. It also offered grants for clothing, household items, night school, and other assistance. In reality, these promises were not fulfilled or continued after people moved, and many newly urban tribal families suffered from unemployment, low-end jobs, discrimination, homesickness, homelessness, and loss of traditional cultural support (ibid). Some families returned home and had issues acclimating back into their communities (ibid).

The Choctaw Nation continues to host Community Cultural Meetings in different cities around the United States. These community meetings serve to keep tribal members connected, engage in Choctaw traditions and cultural activities, and connect with programs and services. For a list of upcoming Choctaw Community Cultural Meetings please visit the Events webpage.

As the Historic Preservation Department continues to do research on the Indian Urban Relocation Program, we hope to find more information on specific Choctaw experiences. In the meantime, we wish like to encourage our Choctaw families to share their relocation stories with your young people. If you would like to document and record your stories, please reach out to the Choctaw Cultural Center’s Education Department at 580-642-7759.

Works Cited

National Archives and Records Administration 2023. American Indian Urban Relocation. Electronic document, accessed May 15, 2024.

About Iti Fabvssa

Iti Fabvssa seeks to increase knowledge about the past, strengthen the Choctaw people and develop a more informed and culturally grounded understanding of where the Choctaw people are headed in the future.

Additional reading resources are available on the Choctaw Nation Cultural Service website. Follow along with this Iti Fabvssa series in print and online.


If you have questions or would like more information on the sources, please contact Ryan Spring at [email protected].