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 and Alaska Native indigenous rights organization. It was founded in 1944[1] 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.



J.T. Goombi (Kiowa) former first vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians

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, 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.[2]

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 [3]

  • 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
  • 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[4]

  • 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”[5]

  • 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[citation needed]

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 (AIM) and the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). The two groups protested several conventions.[citation needed]

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
  • 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."[6]

Notable members

  • Ruth Muskrat Bronson, Executive Director (1944-48) and a specialist in American Indian Affairs[7]
  • Vine Deloria, Jr., Executive Director (1964-1967). He ended major legislative battles
  • Susan Shown Harjo, Executive Director (1984-1989)
  • J. B. Milam: founding member

Past Presidents

  • Napolean B. Johnson, Cherokee (1944-1952)[7]
  • Joseph R. Garry, Coeur D'Alene (1953-1959)
  • Walter Wetzel, Blackfeet (1960-1964)
  • Clarence Wesley, San Carlos Apache (1965-1966)
  • Wendell Chino, Mescalero Apache (1967-1968)
  • Earl Old Person, Blackfeet (1969-1970)
  • Leon F. Cook, Red Lake Chippewa (1971-1972)
  • Mel Tonasket, Colville (1973-1976)
  • Veronica L. Murdock, Mohave (1977-1978)
  • Edward Driving Hawk, Sioux (1979-1980)
  • Joseph DeLaCruz, Quinault, (1981-1984)
  • Reuben A. Snake, Jr., Ho-Chunk (1985-1987)
  • John Gonzales, San Ildefonso Pueblo (1988-1989)
  • Wayne L. Ducheneaux, Cheyenne River Sioux (1990-1991)
  • gaiashkibos, Lac Courte Oreilles (1992-1995)
  • W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam (1996-1999)
  • Susan Masten, Yurok (2000-2001)
  • Tex Hall, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara (2002-2005)
  • Joe A. Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh (2006-2009)
  • Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw (2010-)


  1. ^ Cowger, Thomas W. The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  2. ^ Alison R. Bernstein. American Indian and World War II: Toward a new Era in Indian Affairs (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) p. 116-119
  3. ^ NCAI by-laws and constitution
  4. ^ NCAI by-laws and Constitution
  5. ^ Shreve, Bradley G. “From Time Immemorial: The Fish-in Movement and the Rise of the Intertribal Activism.” Pacific Historical Review. 78.3 (2009): 403-434
  6. ^ "Our History." National Congress of American Indians. (retrieved 20 Dec 2009)
  7. ^ a b Strong Tribal Nations, Strong America, NCAI 67th Annual Convention Program


  • National Congress of American Indians: Constitution, By-Laws and Standing Rules of Order. Found on the official NCAI website, this article was last amended in 2007. It states the purpose of the NCAI, the different types of memberships, and the rules and regulations its members are bound by.
  • Deloria, Vine Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. Avon Books, 959 Eighth Ave, New York, New York, 1970. This book talks about the reality and myths surrounding Indians, the problems of leadership, and modern Indian affairs.
  • Johnson, N B. The National Congress of American Indians. Written by the Justice of Supreme Court of Oklahoma and published in the chronicles of Oklahoma, this article talks about the formation of the NCAI, and the congress’s reaction to its formation.
  • Report of Activities, American Association on Indian Affairs, June 1945-May 1946. This article discusses the reasons why a nation-wide organization of Indians is so crucial.
  • Shreve, Bradley G. “From Time Immemorial: The Fish-in Movement and the Rise of the Intertribal Activism.” Pacific Historical Review. 78.3 (2009): 403-434
  • Cowger, Thomas W. The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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