The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been very instrumental in bridging the gap between the federal government and the Indian communities in America; the tribes and the natives from Alaska. From the time it was formed, it has played a major role especially in matters regarding negotiating agreements between the US government and the communities. This happened especially in the years between the 18th and 19th Centuries. It has really helped to develop trust between the two parties that is, the government and the federally recognized communities. It has also helped in enforcing the federal law among the Indian communities and the Americans at large (Online Highways LLC, 2010).
What is its mission?
The mission of this agency is to improve the value of lives of the American Indians and the Alaska natives including the federally recognized tribes, in order to promote opportunities in the economic sector. It also has the responsibility of protecting and improving their belongings or properties (The National Archives, 1995). It is mandated to carry out law enforcement by looking after the resources and lives of the Indians in America. This is usually done through the office of justice services which is responsible for the maintenance of law and also to make sure that the constitution is respected in regards to those tribes which are recognized federally. At the end of the day, all these culminate to peace in the Indian community (US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, 2010).
What is the history behind the agency?
During the World War II and even after, there were so many relocations which later culminated into activism that resulted into the BIA headquarters being taken over leading to the enactment of a law called the act of Indian self determination and education assistance which took place in the year 1975. This law and the other one of tribal self governance of 1994 changed everything concerning how the federal government and the communities relate with each other (US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs 2010).
There were other laws that were enacted in relation to the American natives. Such examples include, the 1887 general allotment act that allowed non-Indian Americans to settle in the lands that belonged to the tribes, 1924 act of Indian citizenship that gave all the natives the right to participate in elections and the last one is the act of Indian re organization of 1934 which led to the establishment of the current tribal governments (US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, 2010).
Before its inception, when USA was still in its early years, the continental congress used to run the Indian affairs. In the year 1775, this congress, came up with a committee which would deal with the Indian affairs. At that time, the committee was headed by Benjamin Franklin. The main task of this committee was to facilitate the signing of treaties between the government and the tribes and to ensure they remain neutral in the revolutionary war that followed (Henson, 2009). After the factory trading system was done away with in the year 1822, it affected the working relationship with the Indians since their work could not be centralized in the department of war and this led the secretary of war to come up with the agency (Henson, 2009).
The Bureau of Indian affairs, which is classified with the oldest agencies in the federal government, was established by John C. Calhoun in the year 1824. He appointed Thomas L. Mc Kennedy as the head of the bureau without the congress approval (Henson, 2009). The original mission was to oversee that the trade between the federal government and the tribes were running smoothly and also ensure the treaties that they had signed were followed to the letter. This was done through the act of 1832 (4 Stat.564, chap.174). In the year 1848, the agency’s office which was originally in the war department was relocated to the Department of the interior, USA (US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, 2010).
When the agency was relocated, it brought changes even to the roles that it played. When the tribes were removed from the reservations, people started starving and suffering from diseases. This compelled the government to start providing food, medicines among others to the tribes. The agency was given the responsibility to oversee or administer the aid. In the 1860s, it was found that the agency was sleeping on its job. Some good for nothing Indians who were out to benefit themselves were serving in the agency, ending up even worsening the situation on the reservations leading to hostility. In 1887, a committee was established to look into the issue and as a result, they recommended an overhaul to be done in the agency. The agency was mandated to employ new agents who had quality of honesty and were more effective. It also recommended that the agency should be separated from the department of the Interior and made an independent entity. This did not happen but some changes were somehow implemented (Henson, 2009).
In the year 1880, when assimilation was taking place, the presence of the agency on the reservations increased tremendously and they took up the responsibility of running schools, carrying out justice, giving out contracts and distributing aid. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the agency had become the government of the tribe (Henson, 2009).
The Meriam report of 1938 listed the shortcomings of government in discharging its duties to the natives on reservations. This led to some changes to be done on the agency. Its services were increased to include extension of agriculture, management of the range and forestry. These were aimed at strengthening the tribes economically as well as their government. These expansion of the BIA continued in the years 1950s and 1960s; the era of termination. This involved the reduction of these duties by the congress. The task of educating children from Indian communities was taken from the agency and given to the states while the health department took over the issue of Indian health care (Henson, 2009).
Another thing that led to the changes that affected the BIA in discharging its duties is the new policy of self determination which came to reverse the termination policy. Coupled with these changes, there also came up some laws regarding the tribes; the act of self determination, the one on child welfare and the other one on the improvement of health care. All these aimed at improving life on the reservations without touching the tribe’s government. In the modern times, the agency is trying to restructure to become an advisory body and cease to be a management one. It has so many goals to achieve in respect to its structure (Henson, 2009).
Its goals have also changed over time. For example, the main goals laid down in the manual include; encouraging of Indians and taking the natives through some form of training so that they are able to run their own affairs while trusting their relationship with the federal government. The second goal is that the BIA is supposed to involve the Indians maximally in the development of their potentials especially the human and the resources ones. This will entail supplying them with aids; both private and the public so that they can be used by them. It is also supposed to use the skills and abilities in directing and managing their programs for their own good. This fourth objective made the Indians to be gives first priority when it came to employment in the BIA. This is something new and a positive one for that matter. In the early years, the employed Indians in the Bureau were really few. Today, the Indians make up the largest percentage of all the workers in the Bureau (Henson, 2009). There has been an increase in the number of natives working in the BIA over the last 30 years. In the current agency, the percentage of them working there is the largest in its history. The BIA mission is to provide services to 562 tribes which are recognized by the federal government. In other words, those people who are directly affected by the agency’s decisions are the tribes, the American Indians and the natives from Alaska and this is why many people regard it as the Indian office (US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, 2010).
Today, the relationship between the Bureau and the tribes can be defined as a love and hate one even though it represents the good relationship the tribe and the government have. This does not mean that problems do not abound in the Bureau. Many Indian are said to have suffered because of the Bureau, especially because of its mismanagement and paternalism, sometimes neglecting the tribes. It has always been in the expectations of the federal government that the people can also have good relationship with the agency and that the Bureau will stop its dictatorship of imposing policies to the tribes and only act in its capacity as an advisory body (Henson, 2009).
Over the years, the relationship between the government and the tribes has not been good. This is as a result of the government’s effort to do away with the existence of the tribal governments and at the same time trying not to infringe the rights of these native tribes, who want to retain their sovereignty. Their relationship right now is based on respect to the tribal rights by the government. In this era of self determination, the government is trying to protect and enhance the resources which are inherent to the tribes. They are also out to protect their rights and empowering them to take over the management of their governments. The current administration is at pains to ensure there is a balance in the promises of the budget and this will determine how the Indians are going to be treated under the Obama leadership (Henson, 2009).
Based on the research, it can be deduced that the agency has much power over these tribes. It can be seen that some of the people who are supposed to be benefiting from it are also suffering because of the in house problems in the BIA. Another body should be set up or given the responsibility to check the conduct of the agents and if possible monitor its daily affairs. In other words, its power should be reduced.
Henson, C.L. (2009). History of the Bureau of Indian affairs. Retrieved from
Online Highways LLC. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Retrieved from
US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. (2010). BIA. Retrieved from
US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. (2010). Office of justice services. Retrieved from
The National Archives (1995). Records of the Bureau of Indian Affair. Retrieved from