|Formed||March 11, 1824|
|Jurisdiction||Federal Government of the United States|
|Headquarters||Main Interior Building|
1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240
|Annual budget||$2.159 billion (FY2021)|
|Parent agency||United States Department of the Interior|
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), also known as Indian Affairs (IA), is a United States federal agency within the Department of the Interior. It is responsible for implementing federal laws and policies related to American Indians 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 Indian Tribes. It renders services to roughly 2 million indigenous Americans across 574 federally recognized tribes. The BIA is governed by a director and overseen by the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, who answers to the Secretary of the Interior.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 twelve occupants up to the present day have been indigenous, including Alaskan Native Tara Sweeney, appointed in 2018. As of 2020, the majority of BIA employees are American Indian or Alaska Native, the most at any time in the agency's history.
The BIA oversees 574 federally recognized tribes through four offices:
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.
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" 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.
The government licensed traders to have some control in Indian territories and gain a share of the lucrative trade.
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. 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 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. 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.
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 Monroe 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."
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Many native peoples continue to oppose policies of the BIA. In particular, problems in enforcing treaties, handling records and trust land incomes were disputed.
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.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been sued four times in class action overtime lawsuits brought by the Federation of Indian Service Employees, 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. As of 2012 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 Fair Labor Standards Act and claim tens of millions of dollars in damages.
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.
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.
Commissioners and Assistant Secretaries of Indian Affairs include:
in 1806, an Office of Indian Trade was created within the War Department