Indians on the Move

Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century

By Douglas K. Miller

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5138-5
    Published: April 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5137-8
    Published: April 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5139-2
    Published: February 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5406-3
    Published: February 2019

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In 1972, the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated its twenty-year-old Voluntary Relocation Program, which encouraged the mass migration of roughly 100,000 Native American people from rural to urban areas. At the time the program ended, many groups--from government leaders to Red Power activists--had already classified it as a failure, and scholars have subsequently positioned the program as evidence of America’s enduring settler-colonial project. But Douglas K. Miller here argues that a richer story should be told--one that recognizes Indigenous mobility in terms of its benefits and not merely its costs. In their collective refusal to accept marginality and destitution on reservations, Native Americans used the urban relocation program to take greater control of their socioeconomic circumstances. Indigenous migrants also used the financial, educational, and cultural resources they found in cities to feed new expressions of Indigenous sovereignty both off and on the reservation.

The dynamic histories of everyday people at the heart of this book shed new light on the adaptability of mobile Native American communities. In the end, this is a story of shared experience across tribal lines, through which Indigenous people incorporated urban life into their ideas for Indigenous futures.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Douglas K. Miller is assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University.
For more information about Douglas K. Miller, visit the Author Page.


“Using unique source materials and an agency-focused approach, this book generates a flexible, nuanced account of Native mobility and individual efforts toward maintaining practices of 'cosmopolitanism' that have always shaped indigenous cultures and histories.” —Choice

“By carefully recounting life stories of some of those who migrated, the author suggests that there was another side to the story of American Indian urbanization. . . . Miller’s work is a model study on how to do research and write Native American history and is essential reading on twentieth-century Native America.” —American Indian Quarterly

“Miller flips the script, demonstrating how Native people often negotiated how relocation would impact their lives on their terms. . . . Indians on the Move is a needed contribution to the fields of Indigenous studies, mobility studies, and urban history. . . . It not only tells a wonderful history but also projects the future—one that is urban and Indigenous.” —NAIS

"A significant contribution. . . . Indians on the Move does not provide an autopsy of VRP's failure. It tells the bigger story of Native Americans responding to VRP in ways that continue to strengthen their communities." —Journal of American History

"In urban migration, Miller finds a creative process whereby Native people brought tribal and non-Indian spaces into dialogue with one another, and he suggests that this process forms a key source of Native resilience in contemporary America. This insight alters our understanding of the relocation

policy, and it is applicable to many other aspects of modern Native history." —Ethnohistory

"An illuminating history. . . . Miller does not retell the history of the Voluntary Relocation Program, but rather expands it outward and inward to account for Native American agency as an important and driving force under settler colonialism. The book is a worthwhile contribution to indigenous studies, migration studies, and American studies because it reconsiders history through

the experiences of the humans who lived it and not just the systems that created it." —H-Migration