National Congress of American Indians

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National Congress of American Indians
Ncai banner.jpg
FormationNovember 17, 1944;74 years ago (1944-11-17)
Purpose Native American and Alaska Native indigenous rights organization

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is a Native American and Alaska Native indigenous rights organization. It was founded in 1944 [1] to represent the tribes and resist federal government pressure for termination of tribal rights and assimilation of their people. These were in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereign entities. The organization continues to be an association of federally recognized and state-recognized Native American tribes.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Alaska Natives indigenous peoples of Alaska

Alaska Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States and include: Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. They are often defined by their language groups. Many Alaska Natives are enrolled in federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entities, who in turn belong to 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, who administer land and financial claims.

Indigenous rights Legal, social, or ethical principles that pertain to Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous rights are those rights that exist in recognition of the specific condition of the indigenous peoples. This includes not only the most basic human rights of physical survival and integrity, but also the preservation of their land, language, religion, and other elements of cultural heritage that are a part of their existence as a people. This can be used as an expression for advocacy of social organizations or form a part of the national law in establishing the relation between a government and the right of self-determination among the indigenous people living within the borders of Canada, or in international law as a protection against violation of indigenous rights by actions of governments or groups of private interests.



J.T. Goombi (Kiowa) former first vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians Jt goombi usao.jpg
J.T. Goombi (Kiowa) former first vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians

Historically the Indian peoples of the North American continent rarely joined forces across tribal lines, which were divisions related to distinct language and cultural groups. One reason was that most tribes were highly decentralized, with their people seldom united around issues.

In the 20th century, a generation of Native Americans came of age who were educated in multi-tribal boarding schools. They began to think with a broad pan-Native American vision, and they learned to form alliances across tribes. They increasingly felt the need to work together politically in order to exert their power in dealing with the United States federal government. In addition, with the efforts after 1934 to reorganize tribal governments, activists believed that Indians had to work together to strengthen their political position. Activists formed the National Congress of American Indians to find ways to organize the tribes to deal in a more unified way with the US government. They wanted to challenge the government on its failure to implement treaties, to work against the tribal termination policy, and to improve public opinion of and appreciation for Indian cultures.

The initial organization of the NCAI was done largely by Native American men who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and represented many tribes. Among this group was D'Arcy McNickle of the BIA. [ citation needed ] At the second national convention, Indian women attended as representatives in numbers equal to the men. The convention decided that BIA employees should be excluded from serving as general officers or members of the executive committee. The first president of the NCAI was Napoleon B. Johnson, a judge in Oklahoma. Dan Madrano (Caddo) was the first secretary-treasurer; he also had been serving as an elected member of the Oklahoma State Legislature. [2] From 1945 to 1952, the executive secretary of the NCAI was Ruth Muskrat Bronson (Cherokee), who established the organization's legislative news service. [3] [4] Bronson's work was largely voluntary, as the organization could not afford to pay her to act as its executive secretary. [5]

Bureau of Indian Affairs US government agency

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the U.S. Department of the Interior. It is responsible for the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (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.

DArcy McNickle American writer

(William) D'Arcy McNickle was a writer, Native American activist, college professor and administrator, and anthropologist.

In 1950 John Rainer became the first paid executive director of NCAI [6] . He was replaced by Bronson in 1951, who resigned in 1952. Frank George, a Nez Perce from the Colville Indian Reservation, briefly held the post [4] before Helen Peterson (Cheyenne-Lakota) took over the post as the executive director of the organization in 1953. That same year, W. W. Short replaced Johnson as president of NCAI. [7] In 1954, Short was replaced by Joseph Garry (Coeur d'Alene), a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. Garry significantly enlarged the organizational direction away from its focus on issues of Native Americans in the Great Plains and the Southwest, making it more inclusive of tribes in the Midwest and Northwest. [8]

Nez Perce people ethnic group

The Nez Perce are an Indigenous people of the Plateau who have lived on the Columbia River Plateau in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States for a long time.

Colville Indian Reservation human settlement in Washington, United States of America

The Colville Indian Reservation is a Native American reservation in the north-central part of the U.S. state of Washington, inhabited and managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which is federally recognized. Established in 1872, the reservation currently consists of 2,825,000 acres (1,143,000 ha). It is located primarily in the southeastern section of Okanogan County and the southern half of Ferry County, but it includes other pieces of trust land in eastern Washington, including in Chelan County, just to the northwest of the city of Chelan. The reservation's name is adapted from that of Fort Colville, which was named by British colonists for Andrew Colville, a London governor of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Helen Peterson American Native American rights administrator

Helen Peterson was a Cheyenne-Lakota activist and lobbyist. She was the first director of the Denver Commission on Human Relations. She was the second Native American woman to become director of the National Congress of American Indians at a time when the government wanted to discharge their treaty obligations to the tribes by eliminating their tribal governments through the Indian termination policy and forcing the tribe members to assimilate into the mainstream culture. She authored a resolution on Native American education, which was ratified at the second Inter-American Indian Conference, held in Cuzco, Peru. She created a model program for summer school programs on ethnic studies, which was used throughout the United States. In 1986, Peterson was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame and the following year, her papers were donated to the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives.

In 1966, the NCAI mustered nearly 80 tribal leaders from 62 tribes to protest their exclusion from a US-Congress sponsored conference on reorganizing the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The Congressional event was organized by Morris Udall, chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to discuss the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Udall eventually allowed the NCAI representatives to attend. He confirmed that a group composed of tribe members, called the Tribal Advisory Commission, would be created to advise him. [9]

United States Department of the Interior United States federal executive department responsible for management and conservation of federal lands and natural resources

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) is the United States federal executive department of the U.S. government responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources, and the administration of programs relating to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, territorial affairs, and insular areas of the United States. About 75% of federal public land is managed by the department, with most of the remainder managed by the United States Department of Agriculture's United States Forest Service.

Office of Insular Affairs subsidiary of the Department of the Interior

The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is a unit of the United States Department of the Interior that oversees federal administration of several United States insular areas. It is the successor to the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department, which administered certain territories from 1902 to 1939, and the Office of Territorial Affairs in the Interior Department, which was responsible for certain territories from the 1930s to the 1990s. The word "insular" comes from the Latin word insula ("island").

During the late 20th century, NCAI contributed to gaining legislation to protect and preserve Indian culture, including NAGPRA. They worked with the tribes to assert their sovereignty in dealing with the federal government.

In the early 21st century, key goals of the NCAI are:[ citation needed ]

In 2017, the NCAI took over the assets of the Indian Country Media Network, which were donated by the Oneida Nation of New York. It had owned and operated the network for some time. The NCAI continues to operate the news service, primarily online. It reports on Native American news and has especially covered politics in depth. [10]


The NCAI Constitution says that its members seek to provide themselves and their descendants with the traditional laws, rights, and benefits. It lists the by-laws and rules of order regarding membership, powers, and dues. There are four classes of membership: tribal, Indian individual, individual associate, and organization associate. Voting right is reserved for tribal and Indian individual members. According to section B of Article III regarding membership, any tribe, band or group of American Indians and Alaska Natives shall be eligible for tribal membership provided it fulfills the following requirements [11]

Organizational structure

The organizational structure of the National Congress of American Indians includes a General Assembly, an Executive Council, and seven committees. The up-and-coming[ when? ] executive Board of the NCAI is as follows:

In addition to these four positions, the NCAI executive board also consists of twelve area Vice-Presidents and twelve Alternative Area Vice-President.

Executive Director

The executive director of National Congress of American Indians is Jackie (Jacqueline) Pata. She has served as executive director since 2001. Jackie Pata serves on the Sealaska Board of directors and the Tlingit and Haida Central Council Executive Committee.


Every tribe gets a number of votes allocated them specific to the size of each tribe.


Members were hot discussion topics and often made headlines in valued newspapers such as The New York Times . The successes of the NCAI over these years have been a policy of non-protesting. As a matter of fact, the NCAI were known in the 1960s to carry a banner with the slogan, "INDIANS DON'T DEMONSTRATE." [12]

Internal policy differences

In the early 1960s, a shift in attitude occurred. Many young American Indians branded the older generation as sell-outs and called for harsh militancy. Two important militant groups were born: the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). The two groups protested several conventions.[ citation needed ]

Ongoing issues

The advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created a poster for the NCAI to highlight stereotypical Native American mascots. National Congress of American Indians Baseball Poster.jpg
The advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created a poster for the NCAI to highlight stereotypical Native American mascots.

Currently,[ when? ] the NCAI is fighting for improved living conditions on reservations, arguing that 560 tribes are federally recognized but fewer than 20 tribes generate enough wealth from casinos to turn the tribe's economy around. According to the NCAI website, other current issues and topics include:

In 2001, the advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created an advertising campaign and poster for the NCAI to highlight offensive and racist sports team images and mascots. [15] In October 2013, the NCAI published a report on sports teams using harmful and racial "Indian" mascots. [16]

Notable members

Past presidents

Representatives of various tribes attending organizational meeting, 1944; all were alumni of the Carlisle Indian School Representatives of various tribes attending organizational meeting of the National Congress of American Indians... - NARA - 298658.jpg
Representatives of various tribes attending organizational meeting, 1944; all were alumni of the Carlisle Indian School

See also

Related Research Articles

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Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act

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Blood quantum laws

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In the United States, an Indian tribe, Native American tribe, tribal nation or similar concept is any extant or historical clan, tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Native Americans in the United States. Modern forms of these entities are often associated with land or territory of an Indian reservation. "Federally recognized Indian tribe" is a legal term of art in United States law with a specific meaning.

Red Power movement Native American youth movement

The Red Power movement was a social movement led by Native American youth to demand self-determination for Native Americans in the United States. Organizations that were part of Red Power Movement included American Indian Movement (AIM) and National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). This movement sought the rights for Native Americans to make policies and programs for themselves while maintaining and controlling their own land and resources. The Red Power movement took a confrontational and civil disobedience approach to inciting change in United States to Native American affairs compared to using negotiations and settlements, which national Native American groups such as National Congress of American Indians had before. Red Power centered around mass action, militant action, and unified action.

Indian termination was the policy of the United States from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. It was shaped by a series of laws and policies with the intent of assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American society. Assimilation was not new. The belief that indigenous people should abandon their traditional lives and become "civilized" had been the basis of policy for centuries. But what was new was the sense of urgency, that with or without consent, tribes must be terminated and begin to live "as Americans". To that end, Congress set about ending the special relationship between tribes and the federal government. The intention was to grant Native Americans all the rights and privileges of citizenship, reduce their dependence on a bureaucracy whose mismanagement had been documented, and eliminate the expense of providing services for native people.

Native American recognition in the United States

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The Bureau of Indian Affairs building takeover refers to a protest by Native Americans at the Department of Interior headquarters in the national capital of Washington, DC from November 3 to November 9, 1972. On November 3, a group of around 500 American Indians with the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over the Interior building in Washington, D.C. It was the culmination of their cross-country journey in the Trail of Broken Treaties, intended to bring attention to American Indian issues such as living standards and treaty rights. The march had brought to Washington the largest gathering ever of Native Americans and supporters hoping to speak to government officials about their concerns and to gain change to help their peoples.

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National Indian Youth Council organization

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Native American Fish and Wildlife Society organization

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The administration of Richard Nixon, from 1969 to 1974, made important changes in United States policy towards Native Americans through legislation and executive action. The Nixon Administration advocated a reversal of the long-standing policy of "termination" that had characterized relations between the U.S. Government and American Indians in favor of "self-determination." The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act restructured indigenous governance in the state of Alaska, creating a unique structure of Native Corporations. Some of the most notable instances of American Indian activism occurred under the Nixon Administration including the Occupation of Alcatraz and the Standoff at Wounded Knee.

Ruth Muskrat Bronson American poet

Ruth Muskrat Bronson (Cherokee) was a poet, educator and Indian rights activist. After completing her education, Bronson became the first Guidance and Placement Officer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She served as executive secretary for the National Congress of American Indians, which was founded in 1944, and created their legislative news service.

Napoleon Bonaparte Johnson was born on January 17, 1891, in Maysville, Oklahoma. He was the oldest child of John Wade and Sarah Johnson, who had three other children, as well. John Johnson was half Cherokee, and his wife was white, making Napoleon and his siblings one-quarter Cherokee. The father was a professional stock trader and an elder in a local Presbyterian church. John raised his son like any other native Cherokee boy and saw to it that he started his education in a local Presbyterian mission school. He moved to Claremore in 1905, which he called his home most of his life. His formal education ended with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree at Cumberland University.

Veronica Murdock American civil servant

Veronica Murdock is an American civil servant and of Shasta-Mohave ancestry, as a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. She served in the tribal administration, including as vice chair, of the Colorado River Tribe from 1969 to 1979 and between 1977 and 1979 as the first woman president of the National Congress of American Indians. From 1980 to 2004, she served as a civil service employee with the Bureau of Indian Affairs operating in various capacities, including as a Tribal Operations Specialist, as a Tribal Operations Officer, special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and Superintendent of the Salt River Agency from 1994 to 2004. In addition to her public service, Murdock has founded and on the boards of organizations devoted to empowering indigenous people and developing leadership programs for Native women.


  1. Cowger, Thomas W. The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  2. Alison R. Bernstein. American Indian and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) p. 116-119
  3. Harvey, Gretchen G. (2004). "Bronson, Ruth Muskrat". In Ware, Susan; Braukman, Stacy (eds.). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 80–82. ISBN   978-0-674-01488-6.
  4. 1 2 Cowger 1999, p. 74.
  5. Cowger 1999, p. 53.
  6. Cowger 1999, p. 69.
  7. Cowger 1999, pp. 110-111.
  8. Cowger 1999, pp. 111-112.
  9. Champagne, Duane (2001). The Native North American Almanac. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. ISBN   978-0787616557.
  10. "Oneida Nation to Donate Indian Country Today Media Network Assets to NCAI". Indian Country Media Network. October 4, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  11. NCAI by-laws and constitution
  12. Shreve, Bradley G. "From Time Immemorial: The Fish-in Movement and the Rise of the Intertribal Activism." Pacific Historical Review. 78.3 (2009): 403-434
  13. "California Becomes First State to Ban 'Redskins' Nickname".
  14. "Our History." Archived 2010-02-09 at the Wayback Machine National Congress of American Indians. (retrieved 20 Dec 2009)
  15. Roller, Emma (October 10, 2013). "Old Poster Goes Viral, Teaches Multiple Lessons". Slate. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  16. "Ending the Era of Harmful "Indian" Mascots" (PDF). October 1, 2013. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  17. 1 2 Strong Tribal Nations, Strong America, NCAI 67th Annual Convention Program
  18. Fisher, Andrew H. (Winter 2013). "Speaking for the First Americans: Nipo Strongheart and the campaign for American Indian citizenship". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 114 (4): 441–452. doi:10.5403/oregonhistq.114.4.0441. ISSN   0030-4727 . Retrieved August 22, 2014.