Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)

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Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) mission is to:
"… enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians [Native Americans], Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives."

History of BIA

Presently there are 562 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States.

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Since its inception in 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been both a witness to and a principal player in the relationship between the Federal Government and Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. The BIA has changed dramatically over the past 185 years, evolving as Federal policies designed to subjugate and assimilate American Indians and Alaska Natives have changed to policies that promote Indian self-determination.

For almost 200 years, dating back to the role it played in negotiating treaty agreements between the United States and tribes in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the BIA has embodied the trust and government-to-government relationships between the U.S. and the Federally recognized tribes. Over the years, the BIA has been involved in the implementation of Federal laws that have directly affected all Americans. The General Allotment Act of 1887 opened tribal lands west of the Mississippi to non-Indian settlers, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted American Indians and Alaska Natives U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, and the New Deal and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 established modern tribal governments. The World War II period of relocation and the post-War termination era of the 1950s led to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s that saw the takeover of the BIA’s headquarters and resulted in the creation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. The Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 along with the Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act have fundamentally changed how the Federal Government and the tribes conduct business with each other.

In the early years of the United States, Indian affairs were governed by the Continental Congress, which in 1775 created a Committee on Indian Affairs headed by Benjamin Franklin. Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution describes Congress's powers over Indian affairs: "To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes." The BIA, one of the oldest bureaus in the Federal government, was administratively established by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun on March 11, 1824, to oversee and carry out the Federal government's trade and treaty relations with the tribes. Congress gave the BIA statutory authority by the act of July 9, 1832 (4 Stat. 564, chap. 174). In 1849, the BIA was transferred to the newly created U.S. Department of the Interior. For years thereafter, the Bureau was known variously as the Indian office, the Indian bureau, the Indian department, and the Indian Service. The Interior Department formally adopted the name “Bureau of Indian Affairs” for the agency on September 17, 1947.

Since 1824, there have been 45 Commissioners of Indian Affairs, of whom six have been American Indian or Alaska Native: Ely S. Parker, Seneca (1869-1871); Robert L. Bennett, Oneida (1966-1969); Louis R. Bruce, Mohawk-Oglala Sioux (1969-1973); Morris Thompson, Athabascan (1973-1976); Benjamin Reifel, Sioux (1976-1977); and William E. Hallett, Red Lake Chippewa (1979-1981). From 1981 to 2003, the title "Deputy Commissioner" was used to denote the head of the BIA. In 2003, after a major reorganization of the BIA, the title was administratively changed to "Director," which is still in use today. The first BIA Director was Terrance Virden, followed by Brian Pogue and Patrick Ragsdale (2005-2007). The current BIA Director is Jerold L. "Jerry" Gidner, Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa (2007-Present).

William Hallett was the last to serve as BIA Commissioner following the establishment of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs position within the Interior Department in 1977. Since then, 10 individuals, all American Indians, have been confirmed by the United States Senate for the post: Forrest J. Gerard, Blackfeet (1977-1980); Thomas W. Fredericks, Mandan-Hidatsa (1981); Kenneth L. Smith, Wasco (1981-1984); Ross O. Swimmer, Cherokee Nation (1985-1989); Dr. Eddie F. Brown, Tohono O’odham-Yaqui(1989-1993); Ada E. Deer, Menominee (1993-1997); Kevin Gover, Pawnee (1997-2001); Neal A. McCaleb, Chickasaw Nation (2001-2002); David W. Anderson, Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa-Choctaw (2004-2005); and Carl J. Artman, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin (2007-2008).

The past thirty years have also seen the largest increase in the number of American Indian and Alaska Native people working for the BIA. Currently, most of its employees are American Indian or Alaska Native, representing a number larger than at any time in its history. In keeping with the authorities and responsibilities granted under the Snyder Act of 1921 and other Federal laws, regulations, and treaties, BIA employees across the country work with tribal governments in the administration of law enforcement and justice; agricultural and economic development; tribal governance; and natural resources management programs in order to enhance the quality of life in tribal communities.

The BIA carries out its core mission to serve 562 Federally recognized tribes through four offices. The Office of Indian Services operates the BIA's general assistance, disaster relief, Indian child welfare, tribal government, Indian Self-Determination, and reservation roads programs. The Office of Justice Services directly operates or funds law enforcement, tribal courts, and detention facilities on Federal Indian lands. The Office of Trust Services works with tribes and individual American Indians and Alaska Natives in the management of their trust lands, assets, and resources. Finally, the Office of Field Operations oversees 12 regional offices and 83 agencies which carry out the mission of the Bureau at the tribal level.

The BIA's responsibilities once included providing health care services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 1954, that function was legislatively transferred to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now known as the Department of Health and Human Services, where it has remained to this day as the Indian Health Service (IHS). 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is a rarity among Federal agencies. With roots reaching back to the Continental Congress, the BIA is almost as old as the United States itself. As Federal policy has changed from notions of subjugating and assimilating American Indians and Alaska Natives, so the BIA’s mission has changed as well. Its role now is as a partner with tribes to help them achieve their goals for self-determination while also maintaining its responsibilities under the Federal-Tribal trust and government-to-government relationships.

Source: Bureau Indian Affairs: The Official U.S. Government Handbook. Washington, Government Printing Office.

Recommended Viewing: 500 Nations (DVDs) (372 minutes). Description: 500 Nations is an eight-part documentary (more than 6 hours and that's not including its interactive CD-ROM filled with extra features) that explores the history of the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, from pre-Colombian times through the period of European contact and colonization, to the end of the 19th century and the subjugation of the Plains Indians of North America. 500 Nations utilizes historical texts, eyewitness accounts, pictorial sources and computer graphic reconstructions to explore the magnificent civilizations which flourished prior to contact with Western civilization, and to tell the dramatic and tragic story of the Native American nations' desperate attempts to retain their way of life against overwhelming odds. Continued below...

Mention the word "Indian," and most will conjure up images inspired by myths and movies: teepees, headdresses, and war paint; Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and their battles (like Little Big Horn) with the U.S. Cavalry. Those stories of the so-called "horse nations" of the Great Plains are all here, but so is a great deal more. Using impressive computer imaging, photos, location film footage and breathtaking cinematography, interviews with present-day Indians, books and manuscripts, museum artifacts, and more, Leustig and his crew go back more than a millennium to present an fascinating account of Indians, including those (like the Maya and Aztecs in Mexico and the Anasazi in the Southwest) who were here long before white men ever reached these shores.
It was the arrival of Europeans like Columbus, Cortez, and DeSoto that marked the beginning of the end for the Indians. Considering the participation of host Kevin Costner, whose film Dances with Wolves was highly sympathetic to the Indians, it's no bulletin that 500 Nations also takes a compassionate view of the multitude of calamities--from alcohol and disease to the corruption of their culture and the depletion of their vast natural resources--visited on them by the white man in his quest for land and money, eventually leading to such horrific events as the Trail of Tears "forced march," the massacre at Wounded Knee, and other consequences of the effort to "relocate" Indians to the reservations where many of them still live. Along the way, we learn about the Indians' participation in such events as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, as well as popular legends like the first Thanksgiving (it really happened) and the rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas (it probably didn't).

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NEW! Recommended Viewing: We Shall Remain (PBS) (DVDs) (420 minutes). Midwest Book Review: We Shall Remain is a three-DVD thinpack set collecting five documentaries from the acclaimed PBS history series "American Experience", about Native American leaders including Massasoit, Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, Major Ridge, Geronimo, and Fools Crow, all who did everything they could to resist being forcibly removed from their land and preserve their culture. Continued below…

Their strategies ranged from military action to diplomacy, spirituality, or even legal and political means. The stories of these individual leaders span four hundred years; collectively, they give a portrait of an oft-overlooked yet crucial side of American history, and carry the highest recommendation for public library as well as home DVD collections. Special features include behind-the-scenes footage, a thirty-minute preview film, materials for educators and librarians, four ReelNative films of Native Americans sharing their personal stories, and three Native Now films about modern-day issues facing Native Americans. 7 hours. "Viewers will be amazed." "If you're keeping score, this program ranks among the best TV documentaries ever made." and "Reminds us that true glory lies in the honest histories of people, not the manipulated histories of governments. This is the stuff they kept from us." --Clif Garboden, The Boston Phoenix.

 

Recommended Reading: Atlas of the North American Indian. Description: This unique resource covers the entire history, culture, tribal locations, languages, and lifeways of Native American groups across the United States, Canada, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Thoroughly updated, Atlas of the North American Indian combines clear and informative text with newly drawn maps to provide the most up-to-date political and cultural developments in Indian affairs, as well as the latest archaeological research findings on prehistoric peoples. The new edition features several revised and updated sections, such as "Self-Determination," "The Federal and Indian Trust Relationship and the Reservation System," "Urban Indians," "Indian Social Conditions," and "Indian Cultural Renewal." Continued below...

Other updated information includes: a revised section on Canada, including Nunavut, the first new Canadian territory created since 1949, with a population that is 85% Inuit; the latest statistics and new federal laws on tribal enterprises, including a new section on "Indian Gaming"; and current information on preferred names now in use by certain tribes and groups, such as the use of "Inuit" rather than "Eskimo."

 

Recommended Viewing: The Great Indian Wars: 1540-1890 (2009) (230 minutes). Description: The year 1540 was a crucial turning point in American history. The Great Indian Wars were incited by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado when his expedition to the Great Plains launched the inevitable 350 year struggle between the white man and the American Indians. This series defines the struggles of practically every major American Indian tribe. It is also a fascinating study of the American Indians' beginnings on the North American Continent, while reflecting the factional splits as well as alliances. Continued below...

The Great Indian Wars is more than a documentary about the battles and conflicts, wars and warfare, fighting tactics and strategies, and weapons of the American Indians. You will journey with the Indians and witness how they adapted from the bow to the rifle, and view the European introduction of the horse to the Americas and how the Indians adapted and perfected it for both hunting and warfare. This fascinating documentary also reflects the migration patterns--including numerous maps--and the evolution of every major tribe, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of each tribe. Spanning nearly 4 hours and filled with spectacular paintings and photographs, this documentary is action-packed from start to finish.

 

Recommended Reading: Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations (Facts on File Library of American History) (Hardcover). Editorial Review from Booklist: More than 450 inventions and innovations that can be traced to indigenous peoples of North, Middle, and South America are described in this wonderful encyclopedia. Criteria for selection are that the item or concept must have originated in the Americas, it must have been used by the indigenous people, and it must have been adopted in some way by other cultures. Continued below...

Some of the innovations may have been independently developed in other parts of the world (geometry, for example, was developed in ancient China, Greece, and the Middle East as well as in the Americas) but still fit all three criteria. The period of time covered is 25,000 B.C. to the twentieth century. Among the entries are Adobe, Agriculture, Appaloosa horse breed, Chocolate, Cigars, Diabetes medication, Freeze-drying, Hydraulics, Trousers, Urban planning, and Zoned biodiversity. Readers will find much of the content revealing. The authors note that the Moche "invented the electrochemical production of electricity" although they used it only for electroplating, a process they developed "more than a thousand years" before the Europeans, who generally get the credit. The Aztec medical system was far more comprehensive than anything available in Europe at the time of contact.

 

The Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World is an "Eyeopener to the innumerable contributions of the American Indian to our nation and to world civilizations...."

 

The awards it has won and some of the print reviews this book has received are listed below.

Winner 11th Annual Colorado Book Award, Collections and Anthologies

Winner Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Writer of the Year, Creative Reference Work, 2002

Selected by Booklist as Editors Choice Reference Source, 2002

"This is a well-written book with fascinating information and wonderful pictures. It should be in every public, school, and academic library for its depth of research and amazing wealth of knowledge. We've starred this title because it is eye-opening and thought-provoking, and there is nothing else quite like it." Booklist Starred Review

"[An] interesting, informative, and inspiring book." Native Peoples Magazine

"I would strongly urge anyone with a kernel of intellectual curiosity: teacher, administrator, researcher, lawyer, politician, writer, to buy this book. I guarantee it will enlighten, stimulate and entertain...Native students and indigenous instructors must obtain their own copies of the Encyclopedia. Whether Cree, Mayan or Penobscot they will find a deep source of pride on each and every page. I can well imagine the excitement of Native teachers when they obtain the book followed by an eagerness to share its contents with everyone within reach."

"I hope the Encyclopedia will serve as the basis for an entirely new approach to Native history, one in which the scholar is liberated from the anti-Indian texts of the recent past. Ideally, a copy of the Encyclopedia should be in every class in every school across the hemisphere." Akwesasne Notes-Indian Time–Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association and the Akwesasne Communications Society

"Highly recommended for academic libraries keeping collections about American Indians." Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

"Native accomplishments finally get their due in this award-winning book." American Indian Report

"A treasure trove of information about the large range of technologies and productions of Indian peoples. This is indeed the most comprehensive compilation of American Indian inventions and contributions to date. It is most worthwhile and should be on the bookshelves of every library and home in America." Indian Country Today

"This large, well-illustrated volume is an excellent reference. One of the important strengths of the encyclopedia is that the information provided is balanced and rooted in facts, not speculation. Highly recommended." Multicultural Review

"Far from the stereotypical idea that Native Americans were uncultured and simple, possessing only uncomplicated inventions such as bows and arrows or canoes, these varied cultures donated a rich assortment of ideas and items to the world. This book can be recommended to libraries that support an interdisciplinary approach to student learning, such as units that integrate biology and culture studies projects." VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates

"...a comprehensive, unique A to Z reference to the vast offerings made by the American Indians throughout history." Winds of Change (American Indian Science and Engineering Society)

"We bought one for each center. It is a GREAT resource." Ann Rutherford, Director Learning Resources Center, Oglala Lakota College

 

"As I travel to conferences and host presentations, I take your book as a reference and to show individuals. It allows science, engineering and math students to gain insight into the traditional knowledge held about these and related subjects. I believe it empowers them to know this knowledge is already within. To balance contemporary knowledge within that context creates a student who can experience a topic from a number of perspectives." Jacqueline Bolman, Director, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Scientific Knowledge for Indian Learning and Leadership (SKILL)/NASA Honors Program

 

"…the three page introduction alone makes this book a valuable resource as it sets forth the circumstances which led the invaders to change their initial writings of wonder at the advanced native societies…I hope a way can be found to put this book in the hands of our youth and all who touch them." Carter Camp, American Indian rights activist, Ponca tribal leader and founder of Kansas/Oklahoma AIM

 

Recommended Reading: Cherokee Proud, Second Edition, by Tony Mack McClure. Description: Absolutely the "Bible" of Cherokee Genealogy. New, 336 pages, 2nd Edition. If the information in this remarkable new book doesn't lead a person to proof of their Cherokee roots, nothing can! “It is an A-to-Z on organizing and locating the requirements / qualifications for membership.” Continued below...

Are you Cherokee? Are you the individual that has always been told that you are a Cherokee, but have no facts or records to prove it? To claim Cherokee membership means that you must prove it – you must have the facts, so toss the doubt away, get the facts, and claim what is rightfully your heritage by blood quantum. Now, are you ready to prove that you are a Cherokee? It’s not difficult if you take the time to locate the facts. Included are proven resources for tracing your family genealogy, the family tree, roots, bloodline, and for researching your ancestors to prove that you meet the blood requirements (qualifications) for Cherokee membership and tribal enrollment. Those that qualify as “American Indians are American Indians” and are entitled to the rights and benefits of the tribe! Also includes a proven “how to dos” written by the foremost expert in Cherokee history, genealogy and heritage. Cherokee membership is not like joining a gym or paying dues, it’s your blood, so claim it. Are you remotely interested in knowing that you are a “Cherokee Indian” or are you the individual that enjoys genealogy? Do you want to locate and preserve your Native American ancestry? Finding information about ancestors for genealogy and heritage is also a lot of fun. Moreover, you are preserving your own family history and heritage with your relatives and loved ones for generations and generations… Take a look at exactly what is required to locate and organize and present your information to prove that you meet the qualifications as a member of the Cherokee tribe. Cherokee Proud, by Tony McClure, is referred to as the "Bible for Cherokee Genealogy." Cherokee Proud has also been rated a SOLID FIVE STARS by every person that has read and rated it. To see if you meet the 'Cherokee qualification and requirement for membership', then look no further -- purchase Cherokee Proud. Read the reviews and see what people and organizations are saying about it.

Reviews

"Cherokee Proud is the very best book I have ever seen on tracing Cherokee genealogy." -- RICHARD PANGBURN, acclaimed author of Indian Blood, Vol. I & II found in most libraries

"McClure unabashedly loosens his journalistic standards for portions of this book which reach him too emotionally. Understood. Fascinating and enlightening."

BACK COVER: Among the people of this country are individuals in whose blood runs the proud heritage of a noble and resilient people whose ways and talents rank with the finest civilizations the world has known. They are the " Tsalagi ". . . the Cherokee. This book will help you learn if you are one of them. -- BOOK READER

"The contents of Cherokee Proud are exceptional - valuable information that can be used by so many readers and researchers who have Native American (Cherokee) ancestry." -- DON SHADBURN, Famous Georgia historian and noted author of Unhallowed Intrusion and Cherokee Planters of Georgia

"This Cherokee guide is the best yet!" -- LAWTON CONSTITUTION

About the Author: Well known and acclaimed Cherokee author Dr. Tony Mack McClure, a native of Tennessee, is a certified member of the Native American Journalists Association, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and Committeeman for the Tennessee Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, over 250 newspapers, on all major television networks and many cable systems.

 

Recommended Reading: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Description: 1491 is not so much the story of a year, as of what that year stands for: the long-debated (and often-dismissed) question of what human civilization in the Americas was like before the Europeans crashed the party. The history books most Americans were (and still are) raised on describe the continents before Columbus as a vast, underused territory, sparsely populated by primitives whose cultures would inevitably bow before the advanced technologies of the Europeans. For decades, though, among the archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others whose discoveries Charles C. Mann brings together in 1491, different stories have been emerging. Among the revelations: the first Americans may not have come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C. but by boat along the Pacific coast 10 or even 20 thousand years earlier; the Americas were a far more urban, more populated, and more technologically advanced region than generally assumed; and the Indians, rather than living in static harmony with nature, radically engineered the landscape across the continents, to the point that even "timeless" natural features like the Amazon rainforest can be seen as products of human intervention. Continued below...

Mann is well aware that much of the history he relates is necessarily speculative, the product of pot-shard interpretation and precise scientific measurements that often end up being radically revised in later decades. But the most compelling of his eye-opening revisionist stories are among the best-founded: the stories of early American-European contact. To many of those who were there, the earliest encounters felt more like a meeting of equals than one of natural domination. And those who came later and found an emptied landscape that seemed ripe for the taking, Mann argues convincingly, encountered not the natural and unchanging state of the native American, but the evidence of a sudden calamity: the ravages of what was likely the greatest epidemic in human history, the smallpox and other diseases introduced inadvertently by Europeans to a population without immunity, which swept through the Americas faster than the explorers who brought it, and left behind for their discovery a land that held only a shadow of the thriving cultures that it had sustained for centuries before. Includes outstanding photos and maps.

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