Native American Self-determination - Organizations - National


In 1944, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was founded “in response to termination and assimilation policies that the United States forced upon the tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereigns. NCAI stressed the need for unity and cooperation among tribal governments for the protection of their treaty and sovereign rights". “Recognizing the threat posed by termination, fought to maintain Indians’ legal rights and cultural identity.” Indian policy has been federalized since colonial times; however, “until the 1940s, in spite of such major national initiatives as allotment and the Indian Reorganization Act, Indians had never been able to organize on a national basis". Groups such as the Friends of the Indians in the late nineteenth century and the Association on American Indian Affairs (est. 1922) had nearly all-white membership. The NCAI was an Indian-only organization with membership based on tribes, not individuals. Although the “NCAI’s fortunes would ebb and flow . . . the return of Indian veterans at the end of World War II” gave the organization and the Indian people an unexpected boost. “Whether they settled in Indian country or in the cities, these veterans realized expectations and bred a much-needed impatience and assertiveness.” According to Helen Peterson, later executive director of NCAI, “World War Two revived the Indians’ capacity to act on their own behalf.” With the NCAI, Native American people relied on their own people to organize and affect national policy. The NCAI was one of the first major steps in halting termination and giving life to the Self-Determination era.

The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), a result of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty legislation and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, provided grants and other funds directly to tribal governments rather than only state and federal agencies. The War on Poverty Grants “empowered tribes by building tribal capacities, creating independence from the BIA, and knitting tribes together with other tribes and the country as a whole.” As Philip S. Deloria explains, the OEO helped the Indian people become more independent and powerful: for the first time “. . . Indian tribal governments had money and were not beholden for it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs . . . Tribes could, to some degree, set their own priorities." Renewed self-determination by tribes “altered the nature of the and the relationship between tribes and the federal government”. The independence gained by tribes from dealing with the Office of Economic Opportunity helped change the dynamic of Indian affairs in relation to the federal government.

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) is a national legal-advocacy and nonprofit organization founded by Indians in 1970 to assist Indians in their legal battles. It has become the primary national advocacy group for Native Americans. "It is funded largely by grants from private foundations and (despite its adversarial relationship) the Federal Government.” NARF’s legal, policy, and public education work is concentrated in five key areas: preservation of tribes; protection of tribal natural resources; promotion of Native American human rights; accountability of governments to Native Americans; and development of Indian law and educating the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues. “NARF focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that national and state governments live up to their legal obligations . . . works with religious, civil rights, and other Native American organizations to shape the laws that will help assure the civil and religious rights of all Native Americans.” Since its inception, NARF has provided legal expertise at the national level. NARF has trained many young attorneys, both Indians and non-Indians, who intend to specialize in Native American legal issues. "NARF has successfully argued every Supreme Court case involving Native Americans since 1973." NARF has affected tens of thousands of Indian people in its work for more than 250 tribes in all fifty states to develop strong self-governance, sound economic development, prudent natural resources management and positive social development. It continues to handle civil rights cases for the Native American community in the United States.

Read more about this topic:  Native American Self-determination, Organizations

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