About the SAI
The Society of American Indians (1911-1923) was the first national American Indian rights organization developed and run by American Indians themselves, rather than by so-called "Friends of the Indians."
The early leaders of the SAI, a group of highly educated American Indian women and men known as the "Red Progressives," were assisted in their organizing efforts by the non-Native sociologist F. A. McKenzie, a professor at Ohio State. After more than two years of correspondence, McKenzie invited six of these Indian leaders to hold a planning meeting on the Ohio State campus April 3-4, 1911: Dr. Charles A. Eastman (Dakota), Dr. Carols Montezuma (Yavapai-Apache), Thomas L. Sloan (Omaha), the Hon. Charles E. Dagenett (Peoria), Laura Cornelius (Oneida), and Henry Standing Bear (Sioux). As this temporary executive committee worked on the platform for a new organization, initially called the American Indian Association, they received an invitation from University and City leaders to hold their first national meeting on the Ohio State campus as well:
Word has come to our ears that you are planning to meet in national assembly for the first time in history to discuss the problems which devolve upon the Indian race, and we, therefore, hasten to invite you to light the camp-fire first in the city named for the first white man who visited these shores. Let us, if we may, forget any animosities of the past, and jointly work for those conditions and those policies which in the future will justify peace because based upon the principles of equity, intelligence and progress. The high position which your leaders are reaching make us eager to welcome the representatives of all the tribes in the name of the State University, the city of Columbus, and the civic and religious bodies of our city.
The invitation was signed by the President of The Ohio State University, W. O. Thompson, and the Mayor of Columbus, George S. Marshall, as well as by the President of the Chamber of Commerce, the President of the Ministerial Association, the Secretary of the YMCA, the Secretary of the State Historical and Archaeological Society, and the President of the Columbus Federation of Labor.
The temporary executive committee accepted this invitation, and the first annual conference of what became the SAI was planned for the Columbus Day weekend, October 12-17, 1911. Nearly fifty prominent American Indian leaders, scholars, clergy, writers, artists, and other professionals participated in the conference, as did representatives of the University, the Columbus Mayor’s office, the Ohio Governor’s office, and the national Office of Indian Affairs. Daytime events were held on campus in the Ohio Union (Enarson Hall), while evening entertainment (provided by several of the Indian participants and by a quartette sent from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania) was scheduled in the city's Memorial Hall on Broad Street.
Participants in the October 1911 conference spent Thursday afternoon working on issues of Organization. That evening, they were formally welcomed to the University and to the City by President Thompson, Mayor Marshall, a representative for Governor Harmon, and the President of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, and then listened to an address by the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs. They spent Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday in formal conference sessions. The various presentations on contemporary issues affecting American Indians were organized under the general topics of Industrial Problems, Educational Problems, Legal and Political Problems, and Moral and Religious Problems. Specific topics included issues of class and gender, higher education, the role of the arts in contemporary Indian society, and citizenship. (American Indians did not become U.S. citizens, as a group, until 1924.) Each speech was followed by general discussion among the gathered participants. On Sunday morning and evening, Indian speakers were delegated to appear at various churches in Columbus. Finally, on Monday, participants elected officers for the new organization and formally adopted a platform, constitution, and by-laws. The SAI published an official Report of the Proceedings of its First Annual Conference in April 1912.
Although it lasted only until 1923, the SAI and the journal it published between 1913 and 1920, originally titled the Quarterly Journal of the American Indian (1913-1915) and later renamed the American Indian Magazine (1916-1920), are of great significance to the history of twentieth-century American Indian political, cultural, intellectual, and literary development.
Hertzberg, Hazel W. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1971.
Hoxie, Frederick E., ed. Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era. Boston: Bedford, 2001.
Maddox, Lucy. Citizen Indians: Native American Intellectuals, Race, and Reform. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.
McKenzie, Fayette A. The Indian in Relation to the White Population of the United States. Columbus, OH: 1908.
Report of the Executive Council on the Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the Society of American Indians. Washington, DC: 1912.