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Bureau of Indian Affairs - A Government bureau, also called the Office of Indian Affairs, which provides public services to the Indians.  It combines the functions performed by all other federal agencies, by state governments, by counties, by municipalities, and even private organizations.

The Federal Government first became interested in Indian welfare through the regulation of trade.  Benjamin Franklin had reported to the Albany Congress in 1754 that "Many quarrels and wars have arisen between the Colonies and the Indian nations through the bad conduct of traders who cheat Indians after making them drunk."

In 1775 the Continental Congress took over Indian affairs, and when the Federal Constitution was adopted, the states gave to the national government the duty of regulating commerce not only with foreign nations, and among states, but with the Indian tribes.  It said: "The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken from them."

Upon establishment of the War Department in 1779 all Indian affairs were placed under its jurisdiction.  In 1824 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created within the War Department, but in 1849, owing to much criticism in the West of the way the military branch administered Indian affairs, the Bureau was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior, where it is today.

the Bureau's function was then one of guardianship, and in a sense the Indian was considered a ward - although the Indians themselves never liked this term.  The original purpose of the Bureau was to civilize the Indian and prepare him for full citizenship, and to insure that the Government fulfilled its promises to the various Indian tribes in more than 400 treaties.  With the years, the  aim of the administration of Indian affairs has changed gradually.

In 1924 all Indians had become citizens and could vote.  However, as the Bureau still has certain trustee obligations for Indian property, and because  it will take time to adjust the many side relationship between Indians and the Federal Government, the Bureau continues to provide services to Indians.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs is appointed by the President.  The Bureau has an agency for one or more reservations.  Agencies are supervised by area offices, which in turn are supervised by the Central Office.  The Central Office acts as a go between with Congress through the Secretary of the Interior and the President.

As many Indians were leaving reservations and going to cities to work in 1956, the Bureau operated relocation centers in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Oakland, California.  And was planning many other such centers and Thousands of Indians had been placed in jobs.  The Bureau also operated 365 Indian schools and an had an enrollment of 43,616 Indian children in 1956.  Currently the BIA provides services to 1.2 million American Indians in more than 550 tribes.

More than half of the Bureau's 14,000 regular employees have Indian blood.  To complete its services to the Indians, the Bureau has become a huge business enterprise.  It handles large estates.  It is in the oil industry.  It is interested in bonuses and royalties, and the disposition  of great timber areas.  It conducts a large cattle business and is even in the fishing industry.  It arranges leases of tribal lands and carries on a big banking business.  The Bureau administers 43,450,267 acres of Tribally owned land, 10,183,530 acres of individually owned land, and 417,225 acres of Federally owned land which is held in trust status. 

 Bureau of Indian Affairs Homepage


Related Information within this Site
[ Allottment Act ][ Indian Reorganization Act ]
[ Indian Reservation ][ Indian Schools ]