An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

What is the BIA's history?


The Continental Congress governed Indian affairs during the first years of the United States – in 1775 it established a Committee on Indian Affairs headed by Benjamin Franklin.  At the end of the eighteenth century, Congress transferred the responsibility for managing trade relations with the tribes to the Secretary of War by its act of August 20, 1789 (1 Stat. 54).  An Office of Indian Trade was established in the War Department by an act of April 21, 1806 (2 Stat. 402) specifically to handle this responsibility below the secretarial level.  It was later abolished by an act of May 6, 1822 (3 Stat. 679) which handed responsibility for all Indian matters back to the Secretary of War.

Secretary of War John C. Calhoun administratively established the BIA within the his department on March 11, 1824.  Congress later legislatively established the bureau and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs post via the act of July 9, 1832 (4 Stat. 564).  In 1849, the BIA was transferred to the newly created Interior Department.  In the years that followed, the Bureau was known variously as the Indian office, the Indian bureau, the Indian department, and the Indian service.  The name “Bureau of Indian Affairs” was formally adopted by the Interior Department on September 17, 1947.

Since 1824 there have been 45 Commissioners of Indian Affairs of which 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).

For almost 200 years—beginning with treaty agreements negotiated by the United States and tribes in the late 18th and 19th centuries, through the General Allotment Act of 1887, which opened tribal lands west of the Mississippi to non-Indian settlers, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 when American Indians and Alaska Natives were granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, the New Deal and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which established modern tribal governments, the World War II period of relocation and the post-War termination era of the 1950s, the activism of the 1960s and 1970s that saw the takeover of the BIA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to the passage of landmark legislation such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 and the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994, which have fundamentally changed how the BIA and the tribes conduct business with each other—the BIA has embodied the trust and government-to-government relationships between the U.S. and the tribal nations that bear the designation “federally recognized.”

An official website of the U.S. Department of the Interior

Looking for U.S. government information and services?