National Congress of American Indians

National Congress of American Indians

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The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is a American Indian
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 and Alaska Native
Alaska Natives
Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures.-History:In 1912 the Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded...

 indigenous rights
Indigenous rights
Indigenous rights are those rights that exist in recognition of the specific condition of the indigenous peoples. This includes not only the most basic human rights of physical survival and integrity, but also the preservation of their land, language, religion and other elements of cultural...

 organization. It was founded in 1944 in response to termination and assimilation policies that the U.S. government forced upon the tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereign entities. The organization continues to be an association of federally recognized American Indian tribes.


Historically the Indian peoples of the American continent rarely joined forces across tribal lines, which represented language and cultural groups. The National Congress of American Indians was formed to try to organize the tribes to deal in a more unified way with the US government. They intended to respond to the government's failure to implement treaties, to work against its termination policies, and to improve public opinion of and appreciation for Indian cultures.

While the initial organization of the NCAI was done largely by Native Americans employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the US Department of the Interior. It is responsible for the administration and management of of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American...

, at its second national convention BIA employees were excluded from being general officers or members of the executive committee. The first president of the NCAI was Napoleon B. Johnson, a judge in Oklahoma. Dan Madrano was the initial secretary-treasurer, he was a Caddo who was also a member of the Oklahoma State Legislture.

Today key goals of the NCAI are:
  • Enforce for Indians all rights under the Constitution and laws in the United States;
  • Expand and improve educational opportunities provided for Indians;
  • Improve methods for finding productive employment and developing tribal and individual resources;
  • Increase number and quality of health facilities;
  • Settle Indian claims equitably; and
  • Preserve Indian cultural values.


The NCAI Constitution says that its members seek to provide themselves and their descendants with the traditional laws, rights, and benefits. It lists the by-laws and rules of order regarding membership, powers, and dues. There are four classes of membership: tribal, Indian individual, individual associate, and organization associate. Voting right is reserved for tribal and individual members. According to section B of Article III regarding membership, any tribe, band or group of American Indians and Alaska Natives shall be eligible for tribal membership provided it fulfills the following requirements
  • A substantial number of its members reside upon the same reservation or (in the absence of a reservation) in the same general locality.
  • It maintain a Tribal organization, with regular officers and the means of transacting business a arriving at a reasonably accurate count of its membership;
  • It is not a mere offshoot or fraction of an organized Tribe itself eligible for membership
  • It is recognized as a Tribe or other identifiable group of American Indians by the Department of the Interior, Court of Claims, the Indian Claims Commission, or a State. An Indian or Alaska Native organization incorporated/chartered under state law is not eligible for tribal membership.

Organizational structure

The organizational structure of the National Congress of American Indians includes a General Assembly, and Executive Council and seven committees. The up and coming executive Board of the NCAI is as follows:
  • President: Jefferson Keel of the Chickasaw Nation
    Chickasaw Nation
    The Chickasaw Nation is a federally recognized Native American nation, located in Oklahoma. They are one of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Five Civilized Tribes were differentiated from other Indian reservations in that they had semi-autonomous constitutional governments and...

  • First Vice President: Juana Majel-Dixon of the Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians
  • Secretary: Theresa Two Bulls of the Oglala Sioux Tribe
  • Treasurer: W. Ron Allen of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington.

In addition to these four positions, the NCAI executive board also consists of twelve area Vice-Presidents and twelve Alternative Area Vice-President.


Every tribe gets a number of votes allocated them specific to the size of each tribe. For example:

Size of tribe and number of votes
  • Up to 500: 100 votes
  • 501 to 1500: 110 votes
  • 1501 to 2500: 120 votes
  • 2501 to 3500: 130 votes
  • 3501 to 4500: 140 votes
  • 4501 to 5500: 150 votes
  • 5501 to 6500: 160 votes
  • 6501 to 7500: 170 votes
  • over 7500: 180 votes

The achievements of the NCAI

Members were hot discussion topics and often made headlines in valued newspapers such as The New York Times. The successes of the NCAI over these years have been a policy of non-protesting. As a matter of fact, the NCAI were known in the 1960s to carry a banner with the slogan, “INDIANS DON’T DEMONSTRATE”
  • In 1949, the NCAI made charges against Federal job bias towards the Indians
  • In 1950, the NCAI influenced the insertion of an anti-reservation clause to the Alaskan Statehood bill. This clause removes the ban against reservations for Alaskan Natives.
  • On July 8, 1954, NCAI won their fight against legislation that would have allowed the states to take civil and criminal jurisdictions over Indians.
  • On June 19, 1952, a self help parley was opened in Utah where 50 agents for 12 groups proposed several self-help action plans
  • Indians had conventions nationwide and dealt with various topics such as health care, employment, and safety issues

In-fighting within the NCAI

In the early 1960s, a shift in attitude occurred. Many young American Indians branded the older generation as sell-outs and called for harsh militancy. Two important militant groups were born: the American Indian Movement
American Indian Movement
The American Indian Movement is a Native American activist organization in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by urban Native Americans. The national AIM agenda focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty...

 (AIM) and the National Indian Youth Council
National Indian Youth Council
The National Indian Youth Council or "NIYC" is considered the nation’s second oldest American Indian organization and currently has a membership of more than 15,000 nationwide. It was the first independent Native student organization, and one of the first Native organizations to use direct action...

 (NIYC). The two groups protested several conventions.

Current Issues

Currently, the NCAI is fighting for improved living conditions on reservations, arguing that 560 tribes are federally recognized but fewer than 20 tribes generate enough wealth from casinos to turn the tribe’s economy around. According to the NCAI website, other current issues and topics include:
  • "Protection of programs and services to benefit Indian families, specifically targeting Indian Youth and elders
    American Indian elder
    In American Indian education, within each tribe elders, "are repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmitters of such information," including, "basic beliefs and teachings, in the Great Spirit, the Creator"...

  • Promotion and support of Indian education, including Head Start, elementary, post-secondary and Adult Education
  • Enhancement of Indian health care, including prevention of juvenile substance abuse, HIV-AIDS prevention and other major diseases
  • Support of environmental protection and natural resources management
  • Protection of Indian cultural resources and religious freedom rights
  • Promotion of the Rights of Indian economic opportunity both on and off reservations, including securing programs to provide incentives for economic development and the attraction of private capital to Indian Country
  • Protection of the Rights of all Indian people to decent, safe and affordable housing."

Notable members

  • Ruth Muskrat Bronson, Executive Director (1944-48) and a specialist in American Indian Affairs
  • Vine Deloria, Jr.
    Vine Deloria, Jr.
    Vine Deloria, Jr. was an American Indian author, theologian, historian, and activist. He was widely known for his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto , which helped generate national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement...

    , Executive Director (1964-1967). He ended major legislative battles
  • Susan Shown Harjo, Executive Director (1984-1989)
  • J. B. Milam
    J. B. Milam
    Jesse Bartley Milam was the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941 to 1949.-Early life:J. B. Milam, as he was commonly known, was born on May 10, 1884, near Italy, Texas to Sarah Ellen Couch Milam and William Guinn Milam, both Cherokees...

    : founding member

Past Presidents

  • Napolean B. Johnson, Cherokee
    The Cherokee are a Native American people historically settled in the Southeastern United States . Linguistically, they are part of the Iroquoian language family...

  • Joseph R. Garry, Coeur D'Alene (1953-1959)
  • Walter Wetzel, Blackfeet
    The Piegan Blackfeet are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian language family based in Montana, having lived in this area since around 6,500 BC. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning...

  • Clarence Wesley, San Carlos Apache (1965-1966)
  • Wendell Chino, Mescalero Apache (1967-1968)
  • Earl Old Person
    Earl Old Person
    Earl Old Person , also named Cold Wind or Changing Home, is an American Indian political leader and the chief of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, United States. Old Person became a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1954 and served as tribal chairman from 1964 to 2008...

    , Blackfeet
    The Piegan Blackfeet are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian language family based in Montana, having lived in this area since around 6,500 BC. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning...

  • Leon F. Cook, Red Lake Chippewa (1971-1972)
  • Mel Tonasket, Colville (1973-1976)
  • Veronica L. Murdock, Mohave (1977-1978)
  • Edward Driving Hawk, Sioux
    The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...

  • Joseph DeLaCruz, Quinault, (1981-1984)
  • Reuben A. Snake, Jr., Ho-Chunk
    The Ho-Chunk, also known as Winnebago, are a tribe of Native Americans, native to what is now Wisconsin and Illinois. There are two federally recognized Ho-Chunk tribes, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska....

  • John Gonzales, San Ildefonso Pueblo (1988-1989)
  • Wayne L. Ducheneaux, Cheyenne River Sioux (1990-1991)
  • gaiashkibos, Lac Courte Oreilles
    Lac Courte Oreilles
    Lac Courte Oreilles is a large freshwater lake located in north central Wisconsin in Sawyer County in townships 39 and 40 north, ranges 8 and 9 west. It is irregular in shape having numerous peninsulas and bays, being approximately six miles long in a southwest to northeast direction and with a...

  • W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam (1996-1999)
  • Susan Masten, Yurok (2000-2001)
  • Tex Hall, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara
    Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
    Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, are a Native American group comprising a union of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara peoples, whose native lands ranged across the Missouri River basin in the Dakotas...

  • Joe A. Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh (2006-2009)
  • Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw
    The Chickasaw are Native American people originally from the region that would become the Southeastern United States...


External links