Joshua McConico
AmIn 2010

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created under the U.S. Department of War and was later placed under the control of the Department of the Interior. Its purpose was to facilitate negotiations between the United States government and Native American tribal Leaders. Originally, the BIA was merely a tool that the United States government used to subjugate and assimilate Native Americans. As a result, many Native Americans perceive the BIA as a symbol of mistrust, fraud, and cultural destruction. However, over time, it has evolved into an entity that tries to enhance Native American life by improving their economic opportunities, while promoting Indian cultural identity, and self determination. The BIA currently administrates and manages of over fifty-five million acres of surface land and fifty-seven million acres of subsurface minerals. Their staffs is currently responsible for approximately 1.9 million Native Americans affairs, who are divided into over 562 federally recognized tribes many of which have their own governments.
The continental congress oversaw all Native American affairs until 1775 when the committee on Indian affairs was created. This committee was headed by Benjamin Franklin. In 1824, one of the oldest federal bureaus, the Bureau of Indian affairs was created by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, to supervise and fulfill the government’s trade and treaty relations with the Native American Tribes. Around mid 1830’s, the American government and the Native American tribe relations had changed drastically. Andrew Jackson saw Native Americans as merely obstacles hampering the ability of America to expand. With the passing of the Indian Removal Act and similar legislations BIA’s main purpose became relocating Native Americans west of the Mississippi. By the 1840’s the BIA had displaced over thirty Native American tribes.

In 1849, the BIA was placed under the newly created Department of the Interior. This change was meant to symbolize a change in how the United States would handle or treat Native American tribes. Under this new department, the BIA started setting up the reservation system. The purpose of these reservations was to protect the tribes from white settlers, and to offer them an alternative to their traditional way of living.

In 1865, the BIA started making attempts to disassemble tribal governments in order to Christianize and to assimilate the tribes with the white population. The BIA increased agents control of reservation ration distribution and stripped tribal leaders of their authority. In conjunction legislations were passed that made traditional ceremonies illegal and required reservation Indians to perform manual labor to earn their rations. In 1887, the most detrimental and devastating blow to Native American tribes independent existence was made by the passing of the General Allotment Act. Under this Act, the BIA was instructed to have agents survey reservations and divide them in to individual family allotments. The “surplus” lands where sold to white settlers, which ultimately decreased Native American land from one-hundred sixty-eight million to forty-eight million acres.

In 1933 John Collier became Bureau of Indian Affairs first commissioner that was both knowledgeable and respectful of Native American culture and values. His first act as commissioner was to stop the allotment of Native American land; He improved the Indian education programs, and attempted to restore tribal governmental authority. His sympathy for the Native Americans Plight was highly unpopular in the American population. As a result in 1948 under a new commissioner BIAs main purpose once again was to assimilate the Native American tribes with the general population.

Legislations such as legislation such as the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act passed in the 1970’s shifted the BIA from a paternalistic control entity to a department that serviced the needs of the Native American populations. This policy was put into action by a BIA that was predominantly Native American. Under this shift the BIA allowed to tribes’ setup their own administration for handling programs and funds provided by the United States. In 1991 the Tribal Self-Governance Demonstration Project Act was passed by congress allowing tribes to setup governments that would assume control of the BIA and all local programs and services. Despite the Bureau of Indians Affairs less than perfect history it has become the protector of the Native American people.
Works Cited
"American Indian Movement —" Infoplease: Encyclopedia, Almanac, Atlas, Biographies, Dictionary, Thesaurus. Free Online Reference, Research & Homework Help. — Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Provides information about the Indian Movement Act. It includes several important dates. However this site only provides general information.
"Bureau of Indian Affairs." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This is the Wikipedia page for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Caldwell, Gilbert. "American Renaissance December 2001." American Renaissance. Dec. 2001. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site talks about Andrew Jackson's policies for handling Native Americans.
Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. "Bureau of Indian Affairs —" Infoplease: Encyclopedia, Almanac, Atlas, Biographies, Dictionary, Thesaurus. Free Online Reference, Research & Homework Help. — Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Gives a brief description of the Bureau of Indian affairs Duties. It also provides a general history.
"Commissioners of Indian Affairs." New York State Museum, Albany, New York. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Provides a history of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. This was the organization responsible for handling Indian affairs prior to the creation of the BIA
"Daily Kos: Indians 101: The 19th Century Indian Office." Daily Kos :: State of the Nation. 06 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site provides a general history of the BIA. It also talks about the various policy changes in the BIA
"The Dawes Act or General Allotment Act of 1887." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. 06 June 1999. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site has an a copy of the Dawes General Allotment Act.
"Dawes General Allotment Act (United States [1887]) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This page talks about Henry Dawes who created the General Allotment Act. It describes what this act purpose was.
Gale, Thomson, and Encyclopedia of World Biography. "Encyclopedia of World Biography on John Collier." Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This is a biography of John Collier. He was a commissioner of the BIA and was very instrumental in changing the BIA policies.
"Gerald R. Ford: Statement on Signing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act." The American Presidency Project. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This article was written back in 1975 when Gerald Ford signed the Self-Determination act. It describes the acts intents and purposes.
Henson, C.L. "American Studies Today Article." Arnet - Home Page of the American Studies Centre at Liverpool JMU. 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Provides a history of the United States government and Native American tribes relationships. This Article was published in the UK so its provides and outside prospective.
"History of Interior." U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This is the Department of Interiors official government site. This page provides a history of the department and a time line.
"Indian Affairs | Who We Are." Indian Affairs | Home. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This is the BIA official government site. It provides updated information about the BIA and it has a record of all news events. It also provides and in-depth history of the BIA
"Indian Removal Act (1830)." Autoredirect to Main Site. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site has a copy of the Actual Indian Removal Act of 1830
"Indian Removal." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site talks about Andrew Jackson policies and attitude toward the Native Americans during his presidency. He played a vital role in the passing of the Indian Removal act.
Journal of American Ethnic History, and University of Illinois Press. "Journal Of Ethnic History." University of Illinios. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Talks about the policy of Self-Determination that was enacted in the 1970s.
"KAPPLER'S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES." Oklahoma State University - Library - Home. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site provides text on the BIA Laws a treaties with the Native American tribes.
Lamb, Yvonne Shinhoster. "American Indian Rights Activist Vernon Bellecourt -" The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines - 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. Is an article recognized the death of an important Native American activist names Vernon Bellecourt. It talks about many changes that have been made due to his work.
"Native American Indian Tribes: Federally Recognized Tribes." The Healing Center On-Line. 16 Feb. 1996. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site provides A list of all the federally recognized tribes. it Tells you where the Tribes are from and where their reservations are located.
"United States Code: Title 25,SUBCHAPTER II—INDIAN SELF-DETERMINATION AND EDUCATION ASSISTANCE | LII / Legal Information Institute." LII | Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <>. This site breaks the Self-Determination act into its individual articles and gives a brief overview of each one.