Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Logo for the National Congress of American Indians

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest pan-Indian organization in the United States. Its mission is to "inform the public and the federal government on tribal self-government, treaty rights, and a broad range of federal policy issues affecting tribal governments." The NCAI provides legal aid to protect Indian civil rights and serves as a watchdog in protection of treaty rights.

Organized in Denver, Colorado, in 1944 by well-educated Native American leaders such as D'Arcy McNickle (Flathead), Archie Phinney (Nez Perce), and Charles E. Heacock (Sioux), the NCAI battled against the federal government's policies of termination of tribal status and relocation. The NCAI also scored an important victory in helping create the Indian Claims Commission. By the 1960s, with the threat of termination fading, the NCAI focused on issues such as poverty and public health. However, during the 1960s the NCAI lost its position as the sole voice for Native Americans. More radical groups, such as the American Indian Movement and the National Indian Youth Council, diverged from the moderate policies of the NCAI by taking a more militant stand. During the 1980s and 1990s the ncai continued to work to protect Native American cultural rights and the repatriation of Indian artifacts and remains.

The NCAI has grown from an original membership of fifty tribes in 1944 to more than 250 member tribes in 2001. The NCAI functions as a legislative body, with tribes electing delegates to represent them at a national convention. With its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the NCAI continues to operate as a lobbying agent on behalf of all Native American peoples. Issues concerning the NCAI in 2001 included environmental protection and natural resources management, enhancement of Indian health, and the protection of Indian cultural resources and religious freedom.

Mark R. Ellis University of Nebraska at Kearney

Cowger, Thomas W. The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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