Indian Affairs, Bureau of

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Indian Affairs, Bureau of

Bureau of Indian Affairs, created (1824) in the U.S. War Dept. and transferred (1849) to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. The War Dept. managed Native American affairs after 1789, but a separate bureau was not set up for many years. It had jurisdiction over trade with Native Americans, their removal to the West, their protection from exploitation, and their concentration on reservations. Because of wide dissatisfaction in the West over army administration of Native American affairs, the responsibility was given to the Dept. of the Interior and reorganized. The new bureau was no more successful than its predecessor in preventing wars with Native Americans or in protecting their rights. The Bureau of Indian Affairs instead evolved primarily into a land-administering agency, a process speeded up by the Dawes Act of 1887, the Burke Act of 1906, and the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, now acting as trustee over Native American lands and funds. The bureau also promotes agricultural and economic development, provides a health program, social services, Native American schools, and reclamation projects for Alaska Natives and Native Americans in the United States. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has also been officially called the Office of Indian Affairs and the Indian Service. Beginning in the early 1970s, Native American civil-rights groups, such as the American Indian Movement, began actively protesting their dissatisfaction with the bureau. In 1997 the bureau was accused by Interior Dept. auditors of mismanaging money owed to Native American tribes and individuals. A lawsuit on the issue, dating to 1996, was tentatively settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion (mainly for compensation and fractionated land ownership consolidation). Since 2011 a number of tribes have also won or settled claims resulting from alleged mismanagement, with compensation totaling about $1.9 billion.

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