William D’Arcy McNickle was born on the Flathead Salish reservation in Montana in 1904. His mother, Philomena Pareneau, was a Creek whose family had fled Canada after their involvement with Louis Riel and the Métis uprising in 1885. His father, William McNickle, was an Irish rancher. Even as a child, D’Arcy McNickle felt himself torn between Anglo and American Indian cultures. In 1915, he was sent to the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, where he spent three unhappy years. He returned to Montana, where he attended the University of Montana.
In 1925, he attended Oxford University for a year, after which he spent some time in Paris before returning to New York in 1926. He worked at a variety of editing positions in New York, taking time to study at the University of Grenoble, before he joined the Federal Writers’ Project in March, 1936. Later that year, John Collier hired him as an administrative assistant at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), where he stayed for eighteen years in various positions. In 1936, he also published his first novel, The Surrounded, which met with critical, if not financial, success. In 1944 McNickle organized the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), an organization designed to unite Indians on a national political level.
McNickle focused on nonfiction writing during his years at the BIA, including the 1949 They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian, a carefully researched history of white/Indian relations. He worked on a variety of self-help projects with several different tribes during his years with the BIA. When he finally left the BIA, he worked on various projects associated with the NCAI, including a series of landmark community development projects at Crownpoint, New...
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