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Our History


“I have appointed a police, whose duty it is to report to me if they know of anything that is wrong.” —Thomas Lightfoot, U.S. Indian Agent, Nebraska

With those words, Thomas Lightfoot, U.S. Indian Agent to the Iowa and the Sac and Fox American Indian Tribes in Nebraska, became the first officer to report to a Federal American Indian police agency. From that 1869 decision springs the humble beginnings of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA’s) role in law enforcement. Since that time, our tactics and equipment have changed a great deal, but our commitment to serving our communities has remained strong.


  • Sam Sixkiller served first as High Sheriff of the Cherokee Nation and then as Captain of the Indian Police of Muskogee, OK. His murder on the streets of Muskogee, Oklahoma, on Christmas Eve, 1886, moved Congress to pass a law making it a Federal offense to kill an Indian police officer. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • William. E. (Pussyfoot), Johnson's first assignment as a Special Officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to keep intoxicating beverages out of the Indian Territory. The agility he showed in pursuing bootleggers won him his nickname and a promotion to become the first Chief Special Officer in 1908. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • Julia Wades in Water of the Blackfeet Tribe, was the first woman to serve as an officer in the Indian Police. She worked at the Blackfeet Agency for 25 years until her retirement in the 1930's. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • There were many persons concerned with Indian Affairs who agreed with Commissioner (Francis A.) Walker that Indians should be "reformed" but did not believe the Army should be used to do it. Walker's successor, Edward P. Smith, also urged, the use of the military among the Sioux in his first annual report in 1873. (Com.Rep. 1973, P.6). The following year, however, he recommended that deputy U.S. Marshals be used to enforce law among the Indians. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • The Chief Judge at the Kiowa Agency was also a former military leaver. Son of a Comanche Chief and a white captive, Quanah Parker was leader of several hundred Plains warriors who launched a dawn attack against the buffalo hunters at Adobe Wells in Texas, the last great battle of the Comanches. When the Court of Indian Offenses was first established in 1886, Quanah was named as one of the judges. Two years later he was named Chief Judge. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • When the Special Officer force was first created in Fiscal Year 1906, the officers had been given the powers of Indian agents, including the authority to seize and destroy contraband. The 1913 Appropriation Act conferred upon Special Officers, the powers of U.S. Marshals. The Marshals had the same powers as the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which they were working. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • The position of the Courts of Indian Offenses was strengthened somewhat by the passage of the Snyder Act (25 U.S.C. 13), in 1921. Prior to that year, Congress had appropriated funds for the activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs without giving the Bureau explicit and permanent authority to spend it. The Snyder Act gave the Bureau of Indian Affairs that authority. The Act specifically stated that funds could be spent for the employment of Indian judges. Although the Act did not spell out the jurisdiction of these judges, it did give a clear indication that Congress meant for Courts of Indian Offenses to exist. Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, also known as the Snyder Act, was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2, 1924, granting full citizenship to Native Americans.
  • During the period 1953-1970, a large number of Indian Tribes and similar groups, through Congressional enactments, had their Federal trust relationships terminated. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • In 1969, the Police Academy was established in Roswell, New Mexico, and operated under contract by the Thiokol Company. The Academy offered basic police training courses for BIA and tribal police. By 1971, additional training courses were added for juvenile officers and criminal-investigators. In 1973, the Indian Police Academy was relocated to Brigham City, Utah, and assigned as a Unit of the newly established U.S. Indian Police Training and Research Center. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • Another portion of the Indian Civil Rights Act provided for states that had assumed jurisdiction under Public Law 83-280 to return jurisdiction to the Tribe and Federal Government with the mutual consent of all three parties. In 1971, the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska was the first to secure the return of jurisdiction under this provision. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)
  • The men and women who hold the gavel or wear the badge in the Indian Criminal Justice system today are charged with an awesome responsibility to carry on the work of those who came before. From Chief Spotted Tail of the Dakotahs and Quanah, Chief Judge of the Kiowa Court, to Senator Gurney of South Dakota and the Honorable Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United State Supreme Court, the importance of the Indian Criminal Justice system has long been recognized. (Indian Law Enforcement History, Author-David Etheridge, February 1, 1975)

American Indians have been a part of serving through history, and have been serving since before World War I. The following is a historical summary of American Indian's service according to the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans, September 2012. A brief overview of the contributions of AIAN Veterans in the military is provided in the following text:


Early Wars (before World War I)

World War I

World War II

Korean Conflict

Vietnam Era

Post-Vietnam Era

(Unless otherwise noted, historical information is obtained from a U.S. Army article celebrating AIAN heritage and from a Department of Defense report titled Native Alaska - Military Relations: 1867 to Current. American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans, September 2012 Page 5.)

  • From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, American Indians served as auxiliary troops and as scouts.
  • The Indian Scouts were established in 1866. This service was active for the remainder of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.
    • Roughly 12,000 Native Americans served in the military during World War I.
    • Four American Indians serving in the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division received the Croix de Guerre medal from France.
    • Over 44,000 Native Americans served between 1941 and 1945. The entire population of Native Americans in the United States was less than 350,000 at the time.
    • Native American military personnel worked as cryptologists, using their Native languages to encode messages so that enemy code-breakers could not decipher them.
    • Alaska Natives were a significant presence on the Alaska Combat Intelligence Detachment. This outfit was the first ashore on each island occupied by Allied forces in the Aleutian Campaign.3
    • Approximately 10,000 Native Americans served in the military during this period.
    • Three were awarded the Medal of Honor.
    • More than 42,000 Native Americans served in the military in the Vietnam Era, and over 90 percent of these Service members were volunteers.
    • AIAN Service members continued to serve in high numbers after the Vietnam Era.
    • AIAN Service members saw action in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Gulf War, and in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND).

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