Bureau of Indian Affairs

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Indian Affairs, Bureau of, created (1824) in the U.S. War Dept. and transferred (1849) to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. The War Dept. managed Native American affairs after 1789, but a separate bureau was not set up for many years. It had jurisdiction over trade with Native Americans, their removal to the West, their protection from exploitation, and their concentration on reservations. Because of wide dissatisfaction in the West over army administration of Native American affairs, the responsibility was given to the Dept. of the Interior and reorganized. The new bureau was no more successful than its predecessor in preventing wars with Native Americans or in protecting their rights. The Bureau of Indian Affairs instead evolved primarily into a land-administering agency, a process speeded up by the Dawes Act of 1887, the Burke Act of 1906, and the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, now acting as trustee over Native American lands and funds. The bureau also promotes agricultural and economic development, provides a health program, social services, Native American schools, and reclamation projects for Alaska Natives and Native Americans in the United States. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has also been officially called the Office of Indian Affairs and the Indian Service. Beginning in the early 1970s, Native American civil-rights groups, such as the American Indian Movement, began actively protesting their dissatisfaction with the bureau. In 1997 the bureau was accused by Interior Dept. auditors of mismanaging money owed to Native American tribes and individuals; a lawsuit on the issue, dating to 1996, was tentatively settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion (mainly for compensation and fractionated land ownership consolidation).
Bureau of Indian Affairs

Established: March 11, 1824
Assistant Secretary: Jerold Gidner
Budget: $2.4 billion (2004)
Employees: 9,688 (2004)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the Department of the Interior charged with the administration and management of 55.7 million acres (87,000 sq. miles or 225,000 km²) of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives. In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides education services to approximately 48,000 Indians. It is currently headed by Jerold Gidner.


Although the bureau, which was called the Office of Indian Affairs, was formed in 1824, similar agencies had existed in the U.S. government as far back as 1775, when a trio of Indian agencies were created by the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry were among the early commissioners, who were charged with negotiating treaties with Native Americans and obtaining their neutrality during the American Revolutionary War. In 1789, the United States Congress placed Native American relations within the newly-formed War Department. By 1806, the Congress had created a Superintendent of Indian Trade within the War Department who was charged with maintaining the factory trading network of the fur trade. The post was held by Thomas L. McKenney from 1816 until the abolition of the factory system in 1822. In 1832 Congress established the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In 1869, Ely Samuel Parker became the first commissioner of Indian affairs who was himself an Indian.

The abolition of the factory system left a vacuum within the U.S. government regarding Native American relations. The current Bureau of Indian Affairs was formed on March 11, 1824, by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who created the agency without authorization from the United States Congress. McKenney was appointed the first head of the office, which went by several names at first. McKenney preferred to call it the "Indian Office", whereas the current name was preferred by Calhoun. Like its predecessors, the bureau was originally a division of the Department of War. In 1849 it was transferred to the Department of the Interior. The bureau was renamed to Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947 (from the original Office of Indian Affairs).

The 1970's were a particularly turbulent period of BIA history. During this time, the rise of vocal activist groups such as American Indian Movement worried the U.S. Government, who reacted both overtly and covertly (through COINTELPRO and other programs)to supress possible uprisings among native peoples. As a branch of the U.S. government, BIA police were involved in political actions such as the occupation of Wounded Knee and the Pine Ridge shootout in which Leonard Peltier was accused of killing two FBI agents, as well as the occupation of BIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 1972. The BIA also assisted intensively in the establishment of infamous tribal authorities such as Dick Wilson, who was seen as a neo-dictator for his unabashed use of violent "GOON"(Guardians Of the Oglala Nation) squads, open misappropriation of funds, and other controversial actions. Because many of these issues, particularly the continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, are still seen as unresolved today, the BIA remains a controversial agency among native peoples.


The Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently involved in a class-action lawsuit brought by Native American representatives against the United States government; see Cobell v. Kempthorne. The plaintiffs claim that the U.S. government has incorrectly accounted for Indian trust assets, which belong to individual Native Americans (as beneficial owners) but are managed by the Department of the Interior as the fiduciary trustee.

The Bureau is currently trying to evolve from a supervisory to an advisory role; however, this has been a difficult task as the BIA is remembered by many Native Americans as playing a police role in which the U.S. government historically dictated to tribes and their members what they could and could not do.

Commissioners and Assistant Secretaries

Commissioners of Indian Affairs

Assistant Secretaries of the Interior for Indian Affairs

See also


External links

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