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The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the US Department of the Interiormarker 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. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is one of two Bureaus under the jurisdiction of the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs: the Bureau of Indian Affairs and The Bureau of Indian Education, which provides education services to approximately 48,000 Native Americans. Kevin Skenandore is the current Acting Director of the Bureau of Indian Education.

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 Indian Reservation Roads Program. 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).


Cato Sells, the Commissioners of Indian Affairs in 1913
1940 "Indians at Work" magazine, a production of the Office of Indian Affairs, which was the predecessor agency to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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 Interiormarker. The bureau was renamed to Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947 (from the original Office of Indian Affairs).

The 1970s 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 suppress 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; the Pine Ridge shootout (in which Leonard Peltier was accused of killing two FBImarker agents); and 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 Peltier, are still seen as unresolved today, the BIA remains a controversial agency among native peoples.


The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been hit by no less than four class action overtime lawsuits, brought by the Federation of Indian Service Employees , a Union which represents the federal civilian employees of BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), BIE (Bureau of Indian Educators), AS-IA (Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs) and OST (Office of the Special Trustee for Indian Affairs). The Union is represented by the Law Offices of Snider & Associates, LLC , which concentrates in FLSA overtime class actions against the Federal Government and other large employers. The Grievances allege widespread violations of the FLSA and claims tens of millions of dollars in damages. The Snider firm handled identical cases which resulted in a $24 million settlement against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $7.6 million settlement against the US Small Business Administration.

In addition, 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


  1. 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
  3. COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story
  6. American Indian Rights Activist Vernon Bellecourt -
  7. 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
  8. [1]
  9. Overtime Lawyer Website
  10. Wikipedia Article on FLSA
  11. From War to Self-Determination: the Bureau of Indian Affairs
  12. U.S. government departments and offices, etc

External links

Additional Reading

  • 82nd Congress, 2nd Session, Investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, House Report 2503 (Wash., D. C., 1953)

  • Vine Deloria, Jr. and David E. Wilkins, Tribes, Treaties, & Constitutional Tribulations (Austin, 1999)

  • Helen H. Jackson, A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the U. S. Government's Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes (Boston 1881)

  • L. E. Kelsay, List of Cartographic Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Special List 13 (Wash., D. C.: National Archives, 1954)

  • Jay P. Kinney, A Continent Lost – A Civilization Won: Indian Land Tenure in America (Baltimore, 1937)

  • F. E. Leupp, The Indian and His Problem (New Yok, 1910)

  • L.Meriam, et al, The Problem of Indian Administration, Studies in Administration, 17 (Baltimore, 1928)

  • Judith Nies, Native American History: A Chronology of a Culture's Vast Achievements and Their Links to World Events (NY, 1996)

  • Stephen L. Pevar, The Rights of Indians and Tribes (Carbondale, 2002)

  • Francis P. Prucha, Atlas of American Indian Affairs (Lincoln, 1990)

  • L. F. Schmeckebier, Office of Indian Affairs: History, Activities,and Organization, Service Monograh 48 (Baltimore 1927)

  • I. Sutton, "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)

  • I. Sutton, Indian Land Tenure: Bibliographical Essays and a Guide to the Literature (New York, 1975)

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