Native American Timeline of Events

Hopi House in Arizona

Hopi House in Walpi, Arizona, 1921

The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people

should have equal rights upon it.

— Chief Joseph, Nez Perce


1903 Lone Wolf vs. Hickcock Supreme Court decision – The Kiowa and Comanche sued the Secretary of the Interior to stop the transfer of their lands without consent of tribal members which violated the promises made in the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge. The Court ruled that the trust relationship served as a source of power for Congress to take action on tribal land held under the terms of a treaty. Thus, Congress could, by statute, abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty. Further, Congress had a plenary – or absolute – power over tribal relations.
1906 Tribute to the dead, Roland W. Reed, 1912

Antiquities Act – This Congressional Act declared that Indian bones and objects found on federal land were the property of the United States.

Burke Act – This act amended the Dawes Act to give the secretary of the interior the power to remove allotments from trust before the time set by the Dawes Act, by declaring that the holders had “adopted the habits of civilized life.” This act also changed the point at which the government would award citizenship from the granting of the allotment to the granting of the title.

1907 State of Oklahoma – Congress established the State of Oklahoma by merging Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. The former Indian Territory was opened to additional non-Indian settlement.
1908 Winters v. United States Supreme Court decision. Indians from the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana sued to prevent a white settler from damming the Milk River and diverting water from their reservation. The Court found that when Congress created reservations, it did so with the implicit intention that Indians should have enough water to live. Thus, Indians had federally reserved and protected water rights.
1910 Act to Provide for Determining the Heirs of Deceased Indians (“and other purposes”).  This act altered the Dawes Act by dealing with inheritance and leasing of allotments and with the allotment of land that could be used for irrigated farming, among many other things.
1911 Society of American Indians – The Society was the first step in the direction of pan-Indian unity – was established and managed exclusively by American Indians, most of whom were well-known in non-Indian society and well-educated. Although members favored assimilation, they also lobbied for many reform issues, especially improved health care on reservations, citizenship, and a special court of claims for Indians.
1913 US v. Sandoval Supreme Court decision. The Court upheld the application of a federal liquor-control law to the New Mexico Pueblos, even though Pueblo lands had never been designated by the federal government as reservation land. The Court ruled that an unbroken line of federal legislative, executive, and judicial actions had “…attributed to the United States as a superior and civilized nation the power and duty of exercising a fostering care and protection over all dependent Indian communities within its borders…” Thus, once Congress had begun to act in a guardian role toward the tribes, it was up to Congress, not the courts, to determine when the state of wardship should end.
1917 World War I – When the US entered the war, about 17,000 Indians served in the armed forces. Some Indians, however, specifically resisted the draft because they were not citizens and could not vote or because they felt it would be an infringement of their tribal sovereignty. In 1919, Indian veterans of the war were granted citizenship.
1918 Native American Church – This Indian church was organized in Oklahoma to combine an ancient Indian practice – the use of peyote – with Christian beliefs of morality and self-respect. The Church prohibits alcohol, requires monogamy and family responsibility, and promotes hard work. By 1923, 14 states had outlawed the use of peyote and in 1940, the Navajo tribal council banned it from the reservation. In1944, the Native American Church of the United States was incorporated. Today, the Church continues to play an important role in the lives of many Indian people.
1924 Indian Citizenship Act – This Congressional Act extended citizenship and voting rights to all American Indians. Some Indians, however, did not want to become US citizens, preferring to maintain only their tribal membership.
1924 Indian Health Division – Congress established the Division to operate under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1928 The Meriam Report “The Problem of Indian Administration.”  – The report, commissioned by the Department of Interior in 1926, focused on the poverty, ill health, and despair that characterized many Indian communities. It recommended reforms that would increase the BIA’s efficiency, and promote the social and economic advancement of Indians: the termination of allotment and the phasing out of Indian boarding schools.
1934 The Indian New Deal – The brainchild of BIA director John Collier, the New Deal was an attempt to promote the revitalization of Indian cultural, lingual, governmental, and spiritual traditions. This blueprint for reform was written by non-Indians who felt they knew how to champion Indian rights.

Johnson-O’Malley Act – This Congressional Act stipulated that the federal government was to pay states between 35 and 50 cents per day for Indian children enrolled in schools.

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) – The IRA was the centerpiece of the Indian New Deal. It encouraged Indians to “recover” their cultural heritage, prohibited new allotments and extended the trust period for existing allotments, and sought to promote tribal self-government by encouraging tribes to adopt constitutions and form federally-chartered corporations. In order to take advantage of IRA funding, tribes were required to adopt a U.S. style constitution. Tribes were given two years to accept or reject the IRA. Tribes who accepted it could then elect a tribal council. 174 tribes accepted it, 135 which drafted tribal constitutions. However, 78 tribes rejected the IRA, most fearing the consequences of even further federal direction.

1941 World War II – During the course of the war, about 25,000 American Indians served in the armed forces; another 40,000 Indian men and women were employed in wartime industries. Key among the American Indians participating in WWII were the Navajo and Comanche Code Talkers.

Freedoms warrior – American Indian, by Charles Wilson, about 1942

On January 9, a U.S. government press release said 40 percent more Native Americans have enlisted to fight in WWII than have been drafted. Altogether, 25,000 Indians served in the U.S. armed forces, including 800 women. In the Philippines, a Choctaw scout escaped from the Japanese at the battle of Corregidor, and led underground guerrilla forces until the war ended. The Oneida, Chippewa, and Comanche blocked Japanese decoding of military information by dispatching messages in their tribal languages. Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in the landing at Guadalcanal, where they sent and received reports from field commanders.

Seminole Nation v. United States. The Court held officials of the United States were to be held to the “most exacting fiduciary standards” in performing their duties toward American Indians. Thus, it “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” towards American Indian Nations; i.e., upholding the trust responsibility.

1944 National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) – About 100 Indian People met to create the nation’s first large-scale national organization designed to monitor federal policies. Today, over 250 member tribes throughout the US work to secure for Indian People and their descendants the rights and benefits to which they are entitled; to enlighten the public toward the better understanding of Indian people; to preserve rights under Indian treaties or agreements with the United States; and to promote the common welfare of the American Indians and Alaska Natives.
1946 Indian Claims Commission Act – The Commission was created to do away with tribal grievances over treaty enforcement, resource management, and disputes between tribes and the US government. Tribes were given five years to file a claim, during which them they had to prove aboriginal title to the lands in question and then bring suit for settlement. The Commission would then review the case and assess the amount, if any, that was to be paid in compensation. Until the Commission ended operations in 1978, it settled 285 cases and paid more than $800 million in settlements.
1948 Trujillo v. Garley Supreme Court decision – In response to the allegation that many states had successfully prohibited Indians from voting, the Court ruled that states were required to grant Native Americans the right to vote.
1953 Termination – Under House Concurrent Resolution 108, the trust relationship with many Indian tribes was terminated. Terminated tribes were then subject to state laws and their lands were sold to non-Indians. Eventually, Congress terminated over 100 tribes, most of which were small and consisted of a few hundred members as most. The Menominee of Wisconsin and the Klamath of Oregon were exceptions with 3,270 and 2,133 members respectively.
1953 Public Law 280 – This Congressional law transferred jurisdiction over most tribal lands to state governments in California, Oregon, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Alaska was added in 1958. Additionally, it provided that any other state could assume such jurisdiction by passing a law or amending the state’s constitution.
1953 Relocation – In order to deal with increasing unemployment among American Indians, the BIA enacted a new policy to persuade large numbers of Indians to relocate into urban areas. Using the lure of job training and housing, brochures depicting Indian families leading a middle-class life were distributed by the BIA. While the initial response was enthusiastic, within five years the relocation program was counted a failure, with 50 percent of the participants returning to their reservations. This was the first of many late 20th Century failures to “mainstream” the Indian population.
1954 Public Law 83-568 – This Congressional law transferred responsibility for American Indians and Alaskan Natives’ health care from the BIA in the Department of Interior, to the Public Health Services within the Department of Health and Human Services.
1961 National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) – This organization sought, and still seeks, to resurrect a sense of national pride among young Indian people and to instill an activist message – Indians were no longer to bow their heads in humble obedience to the BIA and other institutions of white society. Instead, they were to look back to their own great cultural traditions and make decisions about their lives based upon such traditions.
1965-1973 Vietnam War – At least 43,000 American Indians fought in the Vietnam War.
1968 Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) – This Congressional Act revised Public Law 280 by requiring states to obtain tribal consent prior to extend any legal jurisdiction over an Indian reservation. It also gave most protections of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to tribal members in dealings with their tribal governments. ICRA also amended the Major Crimes Act to include assault resulting in serious bodily harm.

American Indian Movement (AIM) – Shortly after the Minneapolis Anishinaabeg formed an “Indian Patrol” to monitor police activities in Indian neighborhoods, AIM was co-founded by Dennis Banks. The new organization was comprised primarily of young urban Indians who believed that direct and militant confrontation with the US government was the only way to redress historical grievances and to gain contemporary civil rights; and that the tribal governments organized under the IRA (1934) were not truly legitimate or grounded in traditional Indian ways. By the 1990s, AIM was still active in Indian affairs, but was less involved in militant confrontation

1969 “Indians of All Tribes” occupation of Alcatraz – A group of young Indians seized the abandoned Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco harbor. They issued a “Proclamation to the Great White Father” in which they stated their claim that Alcatraz was suitable as an Indian Reservation and thus, should be converted into an Indian educational and cultural center. The Indians of All Tribes continued to occupy Alcatraz until June, 1971.
1970 Nixon’s “Special Message on Indian Affairs” – President Nixon delivered a speech to Congress which denounced past federal policies, formally ended the termination policy, and called for a new era of self-determination for Indian peoples.
1972 Trail of Broken Treaties – Over 500 Indian activists traveled across the United States to Washington, DC where they planned to meet with BIA officials and to deliver a 20-point proposal for revamping the BIA and establishing a government commission to review treaty violations. When guards at the BIA informed the tribal members that Bureau officials would not meet with them and threatened forcible removal from the premises, the activists began a week-long siege of the BIA building. The BIA finally agreed to review the 20 demands and to provide funds to transport the activists back to their home. Shortly thereafter, the FBI classified AIM as “an extremist organization” and added the names of its leaders to the list of “key extremists” in the US.

Indian Education Act – This Congressional Act established funding for special bilingual and bicultural programs, culturally relevant teaching materials, and appropriate training and hiring of counselors. It also created an Office of Indian Education in the US Department of Education.

1973 Native American Civil Rights

Wounded Knee Occupation – At the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, trouble had been brewing between the Indian activists that supported AIM, and tribal leaders who had the support of the BIA. After a violent confrontation in 1972, tribal chair Richard Wilson condemned AIM and banned it from the reservation. In February 1973, AIM leaders led by Russell Means and about 200 activists who were supported by some Oglala traditional leaders took over the village of Wounded Knee, announced the creation of the Oglala Sioux Nation, declared themselves independent from the United States, and defined their national boundaries as those determined by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The siege lasted 71 days, during which time federal marshals, FBI agents, and armored vehicles surrounded the village. AIM members finally agreed to end their occupation under one condition – that the government convene a full investigation into their demands and grievances.

1975 Pine Ridge Reservation Shootout – In June, two FBI agents entered the Pine Ridge Reservation ostensibly looking for a tribal member on theft and assault charges. Shots were fired under confusing circumstances, resulting in the death of the two agents and one AIM member. The violence that ensued was coupled with the criminalization of the AIM movement, the result of which was an undermining of the Indian movement for self-determination.

Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act – This Congressional Act recognized the obligation of the US to provide for maximum participation by American Indians in Federal services to and programs in Indian communities. It also established a goal to provide education and services to permit Indian children to achieve, and declared a commitment to maintain the Federal government’s continuing trust relationship, and responsibility to, individual Indians and tribes.

Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) – Leaders from over 20 tribes created CERT to help Indians secure better terms from corporations that sought to exploit valuable mineral resources on reservations.

Leonard Peltier Arrest – Two years after the siege at Wounded Knee, conditions at the Pine Ridge Reservation had deteriorated. AIM activists and supporters continued to clash directly with tribal Chairman Wilson and his men. In 1975, two FBI agents were killed and AIM activist Leonard Peltier was arrested, tried, and convicted for the deaths. Sentenced to double life imprisonment, Peltier’s arrest and conviction are still the subject of heated controversy among many American political activists.

1977 Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) – This Senate resolution re-established the SCIA. The Committee was originally created in the early nineteenth century, but disbanded in 1946 when Indian affairs legislative and oversight jurisdiction was vested in subcommittees of the Interior and Insular Affairs Commission of the House and Senate. The Committee became permanent in 1984. Its jurisdiction includes studying the unique issues related to Indian and Hawaiian peoples and proposing legislation to deal with such issues – issues which include but are not limited to Indian education, economic development, trust responsibilities, land management, health care, and claims against the US. government.

Report of the American Indian Policy Review Commission – The Commission, established in 1975, issued its report in which it called for a firm rejection of assimilationist policies, increased financial assistance to the tribes, and a reaffirmation of the tribes’ status as permanent, self-governing institutions.

1978 Indian Child Welfare Act – This Congressional Act addressed the widespread practice of transferring the care and custody of Indian children to non-Indians. It recognized the authority of tribal courts to hear the adoption and guardianship cases of Indian children and established a strict set of statutory guidelines for those cases heard in state court.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act – This Congressional Act promised to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise” traditional religions, “including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites.” Although the enactment seemed to recognize the importance of traditional Indian religious practices, it contained no enforcement provisions.

Santa Clara v. Martinez Supreme Court Decision – When a Santa Clara woman married a Navajo, the tribal council denied her children membership in the Santa Clara Pueblo based upon a 1939 tribal ordinance that denied membership to children of women who married outside the tribe. The woman sued to grant membership to her children. The Court held that Indian tribes are “distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights in matters of self-government.” In short, the Court held that the Court itself did not have the right to interfere in tribal self-government issues such as tribal membership.

US v. Wheeler Supreme Court Decision – The Court considered the question of whether the power to punish tribal offenders is “part of inherent tribal sovereignty, or an aspect of the sovereignty of the Federal Government which has been delegated to the tribes by Congress.” He concluded: “The sovereignty that the Indian tribes retain is of a unique and limited character. It exists only at the sufferance of Congress and is subject to complete defeasance. But until Congress acts, the tribes retain their existing sovereign powers. In sum, Indian tribes still possess those aspects of sovereignty not withdrawn by treaty or statute, or by implication as a necessary result of their dependent status.” In short, Indian nations were sovereign, but such sovereignty was limited and subject to Congressional whim.

Federal Acknowledgment Project – This Congressional Act established the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research within the BIA to evaluate the claims of non-recognized Indian tribes for Federal acknowledgement. The project created a uniform process for reviewing acknowledgement claimants with widelly varying backgrounds and histories. In 1994, the Project regulations were amended.

1979 The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gaming – The Seminole were the first tribe to enter into the bingo gaming industry. Their endeavors encouraged other tribes to begin gaming enterprises on reservations as a step towards greater economic self-sufficiency.
1980 United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians – U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sioux Indians were entitled to an award of $17.5 million, plus 5% interest per year since 1877, totaling about $106 million in compensation for the unjust taking of the Black Hills and in direct contravention of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Sioux have refused to take the money and sits in a trust fund in Washington, collecting interest.
July 9, 1981 The Lakota Times is first published.
1982 Indian Mineral Development Act. This Congressional Act encouraged Indian tribes to mine their lands in a manner that would help them become economically self-sufficient.

Seminole Tribe v. Butterworth Supreme Court Decision – The Court ruled that tribes have the right to create gambling enterprises on their land, even if such facilities are prohibited by the civil statutes of the state. The ruling enabled reservations to establish casinos, as well as gave reservations greater authority for tribal governments to levy taxes, own assets, and create judiciaries.

1987 California v. Cabazon Supreme Court Decision – The Cabazon tribe in Southern California operated a high stakes bingo game and card club on reservation lands. The State claimed that it had the legal authority to prohibit such activities on Indian lands located within California if such activities were prohibited elsewhere in the State. The Court found that states which permitted any form of gambling could not prohibit Indians from operating gambling facilities.
1988 Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association Supreme Court Decision – The Yurok Indians and several other Northern California tribes argued that the construction of a 6-mile, two-lane paved road between the towns of Gasquet and Orleans (the G-O Road) and the implementation of a timber management plan would interfere with traditional tribal religions. The Court held that construction of the road did note violate their freedom of religion. Thus far, the road has not been built due to an administrative decision.

Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – This Congressional Act affirmed the right of tribes to conduct gaming on Indian lands, but made it subject to tribal/state compact negotiations for certain types of gaming.

1990 Native American Languages Act – This Congressional Act made it US policy to “preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.” Consequently, the federal government encourages and supports of the use of native languages as a medium of instruction in schools; recognizes the right of Indian tribes to give official status to their languages for conducting their own business; supports proficiency in native languages by granting the same academic credit as for comparable proficiency in a foreign language; and encourages schools to include native languages in the curriculum in the same way as foreign languages. Today, many American Indian languages have been lost; less than 100 languages currently are spoken by Indians.

Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) – The Congressional Act is intended to promote Indian artwork and handicraft businesses, reduce foreign an counterfeit product competition, and stop deceptive marketing practices.

Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act – This Congressional Act required all institutions that receive federal funds to inventory their collections of Indian human remains and artifacts, make their lists available to Indian tribes, and return any items requested by the tribes.

Indian Law Enforcement Act – This Congressional Act created a unified approach to the BIA’s provision of law enforcement service on reservations.

President George H.W. Bush approves a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month”.  Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.

1992 Foxwoods Casino of Connecticut – The Mashantucket Pequots opened the first large casino in the United States
1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – This Congressional Act stated that state governments “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except if such exercise of religion conflicts with “a compelling government interest.” On June 25, 1997, the US Supreme Court declared RFRA unconstitutional as it applied to the states.
1994 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Amendments – This Congressional Act protected the rights of American Indians to use peyote in traditional religious ceremonies.

President Clinton’s Executive Memorandum, April 29th – The president sought ìto clarify our responsibility to ensure that the Federal Government operates within a government-to-government relationship with federally recognized Native American tribes. I am strongly committed to building a more effective day-to-day working relationship reflecting respect for the rights of self- government due the sovereign tribal governments.

1996 Executive Order, October 21 on Tribal Colleges and Universities – President Clinton authorized a White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities within the US Department of Education to continue the support and development of tribal colleges into the 21st Century.
1999 Shannon County, South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation is identified as the poorest place in the country.
Ogalala Sioux at an oasis in the Badlands, photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

Ogalala Sioux at an oasis in the Badlands, photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

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