BIA 200th Year Honoring a New Era of Tribal Revitalization

As the oldest bureau in the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs employees have experienced a long and complicated history when it comes to our federal relationship with Tribes. It involves 150 years of enforcing federal policies designed to terminate, relocate, and assimilate American Indians and Tribal Nations. Collectively, these policies represented attacks on Tribal sovereignty and did lasting damage to Tribal communities, Tribal economies, and the institutions of Tribal governance. Only in the last 50 years have employees, who are tribal members themselves, been able to lift up policies designed to support Tribal governance and self-determination. Today, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is proud to live out our mission to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunities, and to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to us to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians and Alaska Natives.


For almost 200 years, dating back to the role it played in negotiating treaty agreements between the United States and tribes in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the BIA has embodied the trust and government-to-government relationships between the United States and federally recognized Tribes.

Over the years, the BIA has been involved in the implementation of federal laws that have directly affected all Americans. The General Allotment Act of 1887 opened tribal lands west of the Mississippi to non-Indian settlers, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted American Indians and Alaska Natives U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, and the New Deal and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 established modern tribal governments. The World War II period of relocation and the post-war termination era of the 1950s led to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s that saw the occupation of the BIA’s headquarters and resulted in the creation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. The Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 along with the Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act have fundamentally changed how the federal government and the tribes conduct business with each other.


Since 1824, there have been 45 Commissioners of Indian Affairs, of whom six have been American Indian or Alaska Native:

Ely S. Parker, Seneca (1869-1871); Robert L. Bennett, Oneida (1966-1969); Louis R. Bruce, Mohawk-Oglala Sioux (1969-1973); Morris Thompson, Athabascan (1973-1976); Benjamin Reifel, Sioux (1976-1977); and William E. Hallett, Red Lake Chippewa (1979-1981).

William Hallett was the last to serve as BIA Commissioner following the establishment of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs position within the Department of the Interior in 1977. Since then, 12 individuals, all American Indians, have been confirmed by the United States Senate for the post: Forrest J. Gerard, Blackfeet (1977-1980); Thomas W. Fredericks, Mandan-Hidatsa (1981); Kenneth L. Smith, Wasco (1981-1984); Ross O. Swimmer, Cherokee Nation (1985-1989); Dr. Eddie F. Brown, Tohono O’odham-Yaqui (1989-1993); Ada E. Deer, Menominee (1993-1997); Kevin Gover, Pawnee (1997-2001); Neal A. McCaleb, Chickasaw Nation (2001-2002); David W. Anderson, Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa-Choctaw (2004-2005); and Carl J. Artman, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin (2007-2008); Larry Echo Hawk, Pawnee (2009-2012); Kevin K. Washburn, Chickasaw Nation (2012-2016). Tara Katuk Mac Lean Sweeney, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government/Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (2018-2021). Bryan Newland, Bay Mills Indian Community (2021-Current).

Bureau Directors

From 1981 to 2003, the title "Deputy Commissioner" was used to denote the head of the BIA. In 2003, after a major reorganization of the BIA, the title was administratively changed to "Director," which is still in use today.

The first BIA Director was Terrance Virden, followed by Brian Pogue and Patrick Ragsdale (2005-2007). Jerold L. "Jerry" Gidner, Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa served from (2007-2010). Michael Black, Oglala Lakota Sioux, served as Director from 2010 to November, 2016. Bruce Loudermilk, a citizen of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, served as Director from November 2016 to September 2017. Bryan Rice, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was appointed in October of 2017. On April 28, 2019, Darryl LaCounte was appointed, and is the current Director. He is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota.


In keeping with the authorities and responsibilities granted under the Snyder Act of 1921 and other Federal laws, regulations, and treaties, BIA employees across the country work with tribal governments in the administration of law enforcement and justice; agricultural and economic development; tribal governance; and natural resources management programs to enhance the quality of life in tribal communities.


The BIA carries out its core mission to serve 574 federally recognized Tribes through the Office of the Director, and four offices led by senior executive service leaders.

  • Within the Office of the Director resides three key programs. These include Emergency Management, Tiwahe, and Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights Programs.

  • The Office of Indian Services promotes the strength and health of American Indian communities by supporting social services like workforce development, child welfare, and tribal enrollment; uniform contract support for ISDEAA agreements, and improvement of BIA managed transportation systems.

  • The Office of Justice Services provides for the safety of American Indian communities by supporting protection of life and property, enforcing laws, maintaining justice and order, and by confining American Indian offenders in safe, secure, and humane environments.

  • The Office of Trust Services assists Tribes and allottees in managing, protecting, and developing their trust lands and natural resources, which total 56 million surface acres and 60 million acres of subsurface mineral estates. OTS aids landowners in stewardship of cultural, spiritual, and traditional resources, and helps create sustainable sources of revenue and jobs for their communities.

  • The Office of Field Operations delivers program services to federally recognized tribes and individual Indians and Alaska Natives, either directly or through contracts, grants or compacts. These programs are administered by 12 regional offices and 83 agencies that report to the BIA Deputy Director-Field Operations.

Indian Health Service

The BIA's responsibilities once included providing health care services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 1954, that function was legislatively transferred to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now known as the Department of Health and Human Services, where it has remained to this day as the Indian Health Service.

Contact Us

Bureau of Indian Affairs
MS-4606 1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday.