Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), also known as Indian Affairs (IA),[2] is a United States federal agency within the Department of the Interior. It is responsible for implementing federal laws and policies related to Native Americans and Alaska Natives, and administering and managing over 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km2) of land held in trust by the U.S. federal government for Indigenous Tribes. It renders services to roughly 2 million indigenous Americans across 574 federally recognized tribes.[2][3] The BIA is governed by a director and overseen by the assistant secretary for Indian affairs, who answers to the secretary of the interior.

Bureau of Indian Affairs
Seal of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs
Flag of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs
Agency overview
FormedMarch 11, 1824 (1824-03-11)
Preceding agency
JurisdictionFederal Government of the United States
HeadquartersMain Interior Building
1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240
Employees4,569 (FY2020)
Annual budget$2.159 billion (FY2021)[1]
Agency executives
  • Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs
  • Darryl LaCounte, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Tony Dearman, Director, Bureau of Indian Education
  • Jerry Gidner, Director, Bureau of Trust Funds Administration
Parent agencyUnited States Department of the Interior
Child agencies
  • Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, Bureau of Indian Education

The BIA works with tribal governments to help administer law enforcement and justice; promote development in agriculture, infrastructure, and the economy; enhance tribal governance; manage natural resources; and generally advance the quality of life in tribal communities.[4] Educational services are provided by Bureau of Indian Education—the only other agency under the assistant secretary for Indian affairs—while health care is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Indian Health Service.[5][6]

The BIA is one of the oldest federal agencies in the U.S., with roots tracing back to the Committee on Indian Affairs established by Congress in 1775.[4][7] First headed by Benjamin Franklin, the committee oversaw trade and treaty relations with various indigenous peoples, until the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1824. The BIA gained statutory authority in 1832, and in 1849 was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior. Until the formal adoption of its current name in 1947, the BIA was variably known as the Indian office, the Indian bureau, the Indian department, and the Indian Service.[4]

The BIA's mission and mandate historically reflected the U.S. government's prevailing policy of forced assimilation of native peoples and their land; beginning with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, the BIA has increasingly emphasized tribal self-determination and peer-to-peer relationships between tribal governments and federal government.[4]

Between 1824 and 1977, the BIA was led by a total of 42 commissioners, of whom six were of indigenous descent. Since the creation of the position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in 1977, all thirteen occupants up to the present day have been Indigenous, including Bay Mills Indian Community's Bryan Newland, appointed and confirmed to the position in 2021.[4] As of 2020, the majority of BIA employees are American Indian or Alaska Native, the most at any time in the agency's history.[4]


Main Interior Building, the department headquarters

Headquartered in the Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C.,[8] the BIA is headed by a bureau director who reports to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs. The current assistant secretary is Bryan Newland.

The BIA oversees 574 federally recognized tribes through four offices:

  • Office of Indian Services: operates the BIA’s general assistance, disaster relief, Indian child welfare, tribal government, Indian self-determination, and Indian Reservation Roads Program.
  • Office of Justice Services (OJS): directly operates or funds law enforcement, tribal courts, and detention facilities on federal Indian lands.[9] OJS funded 208 law enforcement agencies, consisting of 43 BIA-operated police agencies, and 165 tribally operated agencies under contract, or compact with the OJS. The office has seven areas of activity: Criminal Investigations and Police Services, Detention/Corrections, Inspection/Internal Affairs, Tribal Law Enforcement and Special Initiatives, the Indian Police Academy, Tribal Justice Support, and Program Management. The OJS also provides oversight and technical assistance to tribal law enforcement programs when and where requested. It operates four divisions: Corrections, Drug Enforcement, the Indian Police Academy, and Law Enforcement.[10]
  • Office of Trust Services: works with tribes and individual American Indians and Alaska Natives in the management of their trust lands, assets, and resources.
  • The Office of Field Operations: oversees 12 regional offices; Alaska, Great Plains, Northwest, Southern Plains, Eastern, Navajo, Pacific, Southwest, Eastern Oklahoma, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, and Western; and 83 agencies, which carry out the mission of the bureau at the tribal level.


Ely S. Parker was the first Native American to be appointed as Commissioner of Indian affairs (1869–1871).
Cato Sells, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1913.

Early US agencies and legislation: Intercourse Acts

Agencies related to Native Americans originated in 1775, when the Second Continental Congress created a trio of Indian-related agencies. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry were appointed among the early commissioners to negotiate treaties with Native Americans to obtain their neutrality during the American Revolutionary War.[11]

Office of Indian Trade (1806–1822)

In 1789, the U.S. Congress placed Native American relations within the newly formed War Department. By 1806 the Congress had created a Superintendent of Indian Trade, or "Office of Indian Trade"[12] within the War Department, who was charged with maintaining the United States Government Fur Trade Factory System. The post was held by Thomas L. McKenney from 1816 until the abolition of the factory system in 1822.

The government licensed traders to have some control in Indian territories and gain a share of the lucrative trade.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (1824–present)

The abolition of the factory system left a vacuum within the U.S. government regarding Native American relations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was formed on March 11, 1824, by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who created the agency as a division within his department, without authorization from the United States Congress.[13] He appointed McKenney as the first head of the office, which went by several names. McKenney preferred to call it the "Indian Office", whereas the current name was preferred by Calhoun.

The Removal Era (1830–1850)

The BIA's goal to protect domestic and dependent nations, was reaffirmed by the 1831 court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. The Supreme Court originally refused to hear the case, because the Cherokee nation was not an independent state and could not litigate in the federal court.[14] It was not until the court case Worcester v. Georgia, when Chief Justice John Marshall allowed Native American tribes to be recognized as "domestic dependent nations." These court cases set precedent for future treaties, as more Native tribes were recognized as domestic and dependent nations.[15]

This period was encompassed by westward expansion and the removal of Native Nations. In 1833 Georgians fought for the removal of the Cherokee Nation from the state of Georgia. Despite the rulings of Worcester v. Georgia, President Jackson and John C. Calhoun created a plan for removal. The removal of the Cherokee Nation occurred in 1838 and was accompanied by the Treaty of 1846. When reparations from the treaty were unfulfilled, the Senate Committee on the Indian Affairs made the final settlement in 1850. This settlement, "supported the position of the Cherokee that the cost of maintaining the tribesman during their removal and the years upkeep after their arrival West should be paid by the federal government, and the expense of the removal agents should be paid as well."[14]

In 1832 Congress established the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In 1849 Indian Affairs was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1869, Ely Samuel Parker was the first Native American to be appointed as commissioner of Indian affairs.

Assimilation (1890–1930)

One of the most controversial policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was the late 19th to early 20th century decision to educate native children in separate boarding schools, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. With an emphasis on assimilation that prohibited them from using their indigenous languages, practices, and cultures, these schools educated to European-American culture.[16] Another example of assimilation and Euro-American control was the Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal police force. This was designed by its agents to decrease the power of American Indian leaders.[17]

Reform and reorganization (mid to late 20th century)

1940 Indians at Work magazine, published by the Office of Indian Affairs, predecessor agency to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The bureau was renamed from Office of Indian Affairs to Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947.

With the rise of American Indian activism in the 1960s and 1970s and increasing demands for enforcement of treaty rights and sovereignty, the 1970s were a particularly turbulent period of BIA history.[18] The rise of activist groups such as the American Indian Movement (AIM) worried the U.S. government; the FBI responded both overtly and covertly (by creating COINTELPRO and other programs) to suppress possible uprisings among native peoples.[19]

As a branch of the U.S. government with personnel on Indian reservations, BIA police were involved in political actions such as:

The occupation of BIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1972: On November 3, 1972, a group of around 500 American Indians with the AIM took over the BIA building, the culmination of their Trail of Broken Treaties walk. They intended to bring attention to American Indian issues, including their demands for renewed negotiation of treaties, enforcement of treaty rights and improvement in living standards. They occupied the Department of Interior headquarters from November 3 to 9, 1972.[20]

Feeling the government was ignoring them, the protesters vandalized the building. After a week, the protesters left, having caused $700,000 in damages. Many records were lost, destroyed or stolen, including irreplaceable treaties, deeds, and water rights records, which some Indian officials said could set the tribes back 50 to 100 years.[21][22]

The BIA was implicated in supporting controversial tribal presidents, notably Dick Wilson, who was charged with being authoritarian; using tribal funds for a private paramilitary force, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (or "GOON squad"), which he employed against opponents; intimidation of voters in the 1974 election; misappropriation of funds, and other misdeeds.[24] Many native peoples continue to oppose policies of the BIA. In particular, problems in enforcing treaties, handling records and trust land incomes were disputed.

21st century

In 2002 the United States Congress and Bureau of Indian Affairs met to discuss the bill S.1392, which established procedures for the Bureau of Indians Affairs of the Department of Interior, with respect to the tribal recognition. Bill S. 1393 was also discussed, as it ensured full and fair participation in decision making processes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs via grants. Both bills addressed what services, limitations, obligations, and responsibilities a federally recognized tribe possessed. The bills excluded any splinter groups, political factions, and any groups formed after December 31, 2002.[25]

In 2013 the Bureau was greatly affected by sequestration funding cuts of $800 million, which particularly affected the already-underfunded Indian Health Service.[26][27]

Employee overtime

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been sued four times in class action overtime lawsuits brought by the Federation of Indian Service Employees,[28] a union which represents the federal civilian employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, the assistant secretary of Indian affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee for Indian Affairs. The grievances allege widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and claim tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Trust assets

Cobell vs. Salazar, a major class action case related to trust lands, was settled in December 2009. The suit was filed against the U.S. Department of Interior, of which the BIA is a part. A major responsibility has been the management of the Indian trust accounts. This was a class-action lawsuit regarding the federal government's management and accounting of more than 300,000 individual American Indian and Alaska Native trust accounts. A settlement fund totaling $3.4 billion is to be distributed to class members. This is to compensate for claims that prior U.S. officials had mismanaged the administration of Indian trust assets. In addition, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund enabling federally recognized tribes to voluntarily buy back and consolidate fractionated land interests.[29]


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 known by many Indians 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 in accordance with treaties signed by both.[30]

Commissioners and assistant secretaries

Commissioners and assistant secretaries of Indian Affairs include:[31]

Heads of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

  • 1822–1824 William Clark
  • 1824–1830 Thomas L. McKenney
  • 1830–1831 Samuel S. Hamilton
  • 2002–2004 Terry Virden[32]
  • 2004–2005 Brian Pogue[33]
  • 2005–2007 Patrick Rasdale[34]
  • 2007–2010 Jerold L. Gidner[35]
  • 2010–2016 Michael S. Black[36]
  • 2016–2017 Weldon Loudermilk[37]
  • 2017–2018 Bryan C. Rice[38]
  • 2018–present Darryl LaCounte[39]

Commissioners of Indian Affairs

  • 1832–1836 Elbert Herring
  • 1836–1838 Carey A. Harris
  • 1838–1845 Thomas Hartley Crawford
  • 1845–1849 William Medill
  • 1849–1850 Orlando Brown
  • 1850–1853 Luke Lea
  • 1853–1857 George Washington Manypenny
  • 1857–1858 James W. Denver
  • 1858 Charles E. Mix
  • 1858–1859 James W. Denver
  • 1859–1861 Alfred B. Greenwood
  • 1861–1865 William P. Dole
  • 1865–1866 Dennis N. Cooley
  • 1866–1867 Lewis V. Bogy
  • 1867–1869 Nathaniel G. Taylor
  • 1869–1871 Ely S. Parker
  • 1871–1872 Francis A. Walker
  • 1873–1875 Edward Parmelee Smith
  • 1875–1877 John Q. Smith
  • 1877–1880 Ezra A. Hayt
  • 1880–1881 Rowland E. Trowbridge
  • 1881–1885 Hiram Price
  • 1885–1888 John D. C. Atkins
  • 1888–1889 John H. Oberly
  • 1889–1893 Thomas Jefferson Morgan
  • 1893–1897 Daniel M. Browning
  • 1897–1904 William Arthur Jones
  • 1904–1909 Francis E. Leupp
  • 1909–1913 Robert G. Valentine
  • 1913–1921 Cato Sells
  • 1921–1929 Charles H. Burke
  • 1929–1933 Charles J. Rhoads
  • 1933–1945 John Collier
  • 1945–1948 William A. Brophy
  • 1948–1949 William R. Zimmerman (acting)
  • 1949–1950 John R. Nichols
  • 1950–1953 Dillon S. Myer
  • 1953–1961 Glenn L. Emmons
  • 1961 John O. Crow (acting)[40][41]
  • 1961–1966 Philleo Nash
  • 1966–1969 Robert L. Bennett
  • 1969–1972 Louis R. Bruce
  • 1973–1976 Morris Thompson
  • 1976–1977 Dr. Benjamin Reifel

Assistant Secretaries of the Interior for Indian Affairs

  • 1977–1978 Forrest Gerard
  • 1979–1981 William E. Hallett
  • 1981–1984 Kenneth L. Smith
  • 1985–1989 Ross Swimmer
  • 1989–1993 Eddie Frank Brown
  • 1993–1997 Ada E. Deer
  • 1997–2001 Kevin Gover
  • 2001 James H. McDivitt (acting)
  • 2001–2003 Neal A. McCaleb
  • 2003–2004 Aurene M. Martin (acting)
  • 2004–2005 Dave Anderson
  • 2005–2007 Jim Cason (acting)
  • 2007–2008 Carl J. Artman
  • 2008–2009 George T. Skibine (acting)
  • 2009–2012 Larry Echo Hawk
  • 2012 Donald "Del" Laverdure (acting)
  • 2012–2015 Kevin K. Washburn
  • 2016–2017 Lawrence S. Roberts (acting)[42]
  • 2017 Michael S. Black (acting)[43]
  • 2017–2018 John Tahsuda (acting)[44]
  • 2018–2021 Tara Sweeney
  • 2021–present Bryan Newland[45]

Assistant to the Secretary for Indian Affairs

  • February 7, 1973 – December 4, 1973 Marvin L. Franklin[46]

See also


  1. Tana Fitzpatrick (February 4, 2021). The Bureau of Indian Affairs: FY2021 Appropriations (Report). Congressional Research Service. p. 1. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  2. "About Us | Indian Affairs". www.bia.gov. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  3. "Federal Register, Volume 83, Number 141 dated July 23, 2018" (PDF). Loc.gov. RetrievedOctober 5, 2018.
  4. "Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) | Indian Affairs". www.bia.gov. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  5. "Education | Indian Affairs". www.bia.gov. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  6. "Indian Health Service | Indian Health Service (IHS)". Indian Health Service. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  7. Article I, Section 8, U.S. Constitution.
  8. "Home". Bureau of Indian Affairs. Retrieved June 23, 2022. 1849 C Street NW Washington, DC 20240 - Identified as the Main Interior Building here: "The meeting will be held at 1849 C Street, NW, Main Interior Building,[...]"
  9. Hegyi, Nate (December 23, 2022). "Congress tasks a federal watchdog to examine Indian Affairs' troubled tribal jails". NPR News. Retrieved December 24, 2022.
  10. "Who We Are", BIA
  11. Henson, C.L. "From War to Self-Determination: a history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs". American Resources on the Net. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  12. Waldman, Carl; Braun, Molly (2009). Atlas of the North American Indian. Infobase Publishing. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8160-6858-6. in 1806, an Office of Indian Trade was created within the War Department
  13. Jackson, Curtis (1997). A History of the Bureau of Indian affairs and Its Activities Among Indians. San Francisco, California: R & E Research. p. 43.
  14. Harmon, George Dewey (1941). Sixty Years of Indian Affairs. New York: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 174–196.
  15. Jackson, Curtis (1977). A History of The Bureau of Indian Affairs And Its Activities Among Indians. San Francisco, California: R & E Research Associates. p. 59.
  16. Dennis Banks, "Ojibwa Warrior," 2004: 29–28
  17. Lyden, Fremont (1992). Native Americans and Public Policy. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 23–41.
  18. Philip Worchel, Philip G. Hester and Philip S. Kopala, "Collective Protest and Legitimacy of Authority: Theory and Research," The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 18 (1) 1974): 37–54
  19. The COINTELPRO PAPERS – Chapter 7: COINTELPRO – AIM Archived July 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  20. Paul Smith and Robert Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, New York: The New Press, 1996.
  21. "Stop bandwidth theft!". Maquah.net. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  22. "Stop bandwidth theft!". Maquah.net. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  23. "American Indian Rights Activist Vernon Bellecourt", Washington Post, October 14, 2007
  24. Ward Churchill, Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, South End Press, 2002.
  25. Congress, United States (2003). Tribal Recognition : Hearing before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Seventh Congress, Second Session, on S. 1392, to Establish Procedures for the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior with Respect to Tribal Recognition and S. 1393, to Provide Grants to Ensure Full and Fair Participation in Certain Decision making Processes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Washington D.C.: Washington D.C. United States Government Printing Office. pp. 1–3.
  26. Gale Courey Toensing (March 27, 2013). "Sequestration Grounds Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs". Indian Country Today. Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  27. Editorial Board (March 20, 2013). "The Sequester Hits the Reservation" (Editorial). The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  28. "FEDERATION OF INDIAN SERVICE EMPLOYEES - AFT - AFL/CIO, Local 4524 - Home". Ief.aft.org. Archived from the original on August 19, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  29. “Cobell vs. Salazar Lawsuit”. doi.gov/tribes/special-trustee.cfm. Office of Special Trustee, n.d. Web. April 24, 2011
  30. "From War to Self-Determination: the Bureau of Indian Affairs". Americansc.org.uk. May 25, 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  31. "U.S. government departments and offices, etc". Rulers.org. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  32. Secretary, Office of the. "Martin Confirms Terry Virden As BIA Deputy Commissioner". www.doi.gov.
  33. "Anderson Names Brian Pogue as New BIA Director". www.doi.gov.
  34. "Assistant Secretary Announces W. Patrick Ragsdale". www.doi.gov.
  35. "News report" (PDF). www.cherokeeobserver.org. April 2008.
  36. "News release" (PDF). www.bia.gov.
  37. "Interior Picks Two for Key BIA, BIE Leadership Jobs - Indian Country Media Network". indiancountrymedianetwork.com.
  38. "Secretary Zinke Names Bryan Rice Director of Bureau of Indian Affairs". www.doi.gov. October 16, 2017.
  39. "Director of Bureau of Indian Affairs Darryl LaCounte | Indian Affairs". www.bia.gov. Retrieved June 30, 2021.
  40. "John O. Crow Named Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Member of Advisory Board on Indian Affairs" (PDF). Bureau of Indian Affairs. February 10, 1961. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 10, 2014. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  41. "Nash Nominated as Commissioner of Indian Affairs; Crow Appointed Deputy Commissioner" (PDF). Bureau of Indian Affairs. August 1, 1961. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  42. "News release" (PDF). www.indianaffairs.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 2, 2018. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  43. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 13, 2017. Retrieved May 11, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  44. "Kiowa citizen John Tahsuda set to join Bureau of Indian Affairs leadership team".
  45. "Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Bryan Newland | Indian Affairs". www.bia.gov. Retrieved June 30, 2021.
  46. "DeJong, David H. "Marvin L. Franklin: Assistant to the Secretary for Indian Affairs (February 7, 1973–December 4, 1973)." In Paternalism to Partnership: The Administration of Indian Affairs, 1786–2021, 335–38. University of Nebraska Press, 2021". www.jstor.org. JSTOR j.ctv2cw0sp9.54.


  • Belko, William S. "'John C. Calhoun and the Creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: An Essay on Political Rivalry, Ideology, and Policymaking in the Early Republic," South Carolina Historical Magazine 2004 105(3): 17097. ISSN 0038-3082
  • Cahill, Cathleen D. Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869–1933 (U of North Carolina Press, 2011) 368 pp. online review
  • Deloria, Jr., Vine, and David E. Wilkins, Tribes, Treaties, & Constitutional Tribulations (Austin, 1999)
  • Jackson, Helen H. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the U. S. Government's Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes (1881) online edition
  • Leupp, F. E. The Indian and His Problem (1910) online edition
  • Meriam, Lewis, et al., The Problem of Indian Administration, Studies in Administration, 17 (Baltimore, 1928)
  • Pevar, Stephen L. The Rights of Indians and Tribes (Carbondale, 2002)
  • Prucha, Francis P. Atlas of American Indian Affairs (Lincoln, 1990)
  • Prucha, Francis P. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (Abridged Edition 1986) excerpt and text search
  • Schmeckebier, L. F. Office of Indian Affairs: History, Activities, and Organization, Service Monograh 48 (Baltimore 1927)
  • Sutton, I. "Indian Country and the Law: Land Tenure, Tribal Sovereignty, and the States," ch. 36 in Law in the Western United States, ed. G. M. Bakken (Norman, 2000)

Primary sources

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.