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National Congress of American Indians
FormationNovember 17, 1944; 79 years ago (1944-11-17)
Registration no.EIN 53-0210846[1]
PurposePublic affairs, ethnic and racial minority rights, cultural awareness[1]
HeadquartersEmbassy of Tribal Nations
Mark Macarro (Pechanga)[2]
First Vice President
Brian Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag)[2]
Nickolaus D. Lewis (Lummi)[2]
David Woerz (Chickasaw[2]

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is an American Indian and Alaska Native rights organization.[1] It was founded in 1944[3] to represent the tribes and resist U.S. federal government pressure for termination of tribal rights and assimilation of their people. These were in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereign entities. The organization continues to be an association of federally recognized and state-recognized Indian tribes.


NCAI was founded in 1944 and incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, in 1962.[1] The organizational structure of the National Congress of American Indians includes a General Assembly, an Executive Council, and seven committees.

In addition to the four executive positions, the NCAI executive board also consists of 12 area vice presidents and 12 alternative area vice presidents.[4]

Chuck Trimble was the former chief executive.[5]

Current administration

The executive board of the NCAI is as follows:


Representatives of various tribes attending organizational meeting, 1944; all were alumni of the Carlisle Indian School.
J.T. Goombi (Kiowa), former first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians

Native Americans in the United States have independent governments and distinct cultures, histories, and territories. However, the need to create unified voice in dealing with the U.S. federal government led to an intertribal coalition.

In the 20th century, a generation of Native Americans came of age who were educated in intertribal boarding schools. They began to think with a broad pan-Native American vision, and they learned to form alliances across tribes. They increasingly felt the need to work together politically to exert their power in dealing with the United States federal government. In addition, with the efforts after 1934 to reorganize tribal governments, activists believed that Indians had to work together to strengthen their political position. Activists formed the National Congress of American Indians to find ways to organize the tribes to deal in a more unified way with the US government. They wanted to challenge the government on its failure to implement treaties, to work against the tribal termination policy, and to improve public opinion of and appreciation for Indian cultures.

The initial organization of the NCAI was created largely by Native American men who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and represented many tribes. Among this group was D'Arcy McNickle of the BIA.[6][citation needed] At the second national convention, Indian women attended as representatives in numbers equal to the men. The convention decided that BIA employees should be excluded from serving as general officers or members of the executive committee. The first president of the NCAI was Napoleon B. Johnson, a judge in Oklahoma. Dan Madrano (Caddo) was the first secretary-treasurer; he also had been serving as an elected member of the Oklahoma State Legislature.[7] From 1945 to 1952, the executive secretary of the NCAI was Ruth Muskrat Bronson (Cherokee), who established the organization's legislative news service.[8][9] Bronson's work was largely voluntary, as the organization could not afford to pay her to act as its executive secretary.[10]

In 1950, John Rainer became the first paid executive director of NCAI.[11] He was replaced by Bronson in 1951, who resigned in 1952. Frank George, a Nez Perce from the Colville Indian Reservation, briefly held the post[9] before Helen Peterson (Cheyenne-Lakota) took over the post as the executive director of the organization in 1953. That same year, W. W. Short replaced Johnson as president of NCAI.[12] In 1954, Short was replaced by Joseph Garry (Coeur d'Alene), a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. Garry significantly enlarged the organizational direction away from its focus on issues of Native Americans in the Great Plains and the Southwest, making it more inclusive of tribes in the Midwest and Northwest.[13]

In 1966, the NCAI mustered nearly 80 tribal leaders from 62 tribes to protest their exclusion from a US-Congress sponsored conference on reorganizing the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The Congressional event was organized by Morris Udall, chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to discuss the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Udall eventually allowed the NCAI representatives to attend. He confirmed that a group composed of tribe members, called the Tribal Advisory Commission, would be created to advise him.[14]

During the late 20th century, NCAI contributed to gaining legislation to protect and preserve Indian culture, including NAGPRA. They worked with the tribes to assert their sovereignty in dealing with the federal government.

In the early 21st century, key goals of the NCAI are:[citation needed]

On November 3, 2009, the Embassy of Tribal Nations was opened in Washington D.C.[15] The building serves as a headquarters and central meeting place for the NCAI.[15]

In 2013, the NCAI passed a resolution to establish a National American Indian Holocaust Museum space inside a museum of the Smithsonian Institution.[16] However, the Smithsonian has been uncooperative.[16]

In 2017, the NCAI took over the assets of the Indian Country Media Network, which were donated by the Oneida Indian Nation in New York. In March 2021, the publication became independent from the NCAI.[17] “This is an exciting time for Indian Country Today to become fiscally independent and to continue its tradition of an autonomous free press," NCAI President Fawn Sharp said in a press release regarding the change. “This is a new day for ICT, which has a long history as a premier source of news for and about Indigenous communities, written and produced by Indigenous journalists.” The publication's current president and CEO is Karen Michel, Ho Chunk.

In 2023, NCAI founded the NCAI Foundation (NCAIF) to promote philanthropy by and for Native American communities.[18]


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 rights are reserved for tribal and Indian 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:


The NCAI has maintained a policy of non-protesting. During the 1960s NCAI carried a banner with the slogan, "INDIANS DON'T DEMONSTRATE":[19]

Internal policy differences

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]

In 2023, two proposed amendments to the NCAI constitution were proposed which would remove state-recognized tribes from full tribal membership to only associate non-voting tribal membership, as well as require candidates for NCAI national leadership to be enrolled members of federally-recognized tribes. The amendments received the vocal support of the principal chiefs of several federally-recognized tribes including the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Ironically the NCAI had been founded to assert both civil and tribal rights by declaring that the common welfare of Native Americans required the preservation of cultural values. After 80 years of existence, NCAI membership has gone from 270 member tribes to 146 member tribes.[21]

Ongoing issues

The advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created a poster for the NCAI in 2001 to highlight stereotypical Native American mascots.
The advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created a poster for the NCAI to highlight stereotypical Native American mascots.

The NCAI has been advocating for improved living conditions on reservations, arguing that 560 tribes are federally recognized but fewer than 20 tribes gain profits from casinos to turn the tribe's economy around.[citation needed] Other issues and topics include:[citation needed]

In 2001, the advertising firm of DeVito/Verdi created an advertising campaign and poster for the NCAI to highlight offensive and racist sports team images and mascots.[23] In October 2013, the NCAI published a report on sports teams using harmful and racial "Indian" mascots.[24]

Past leadership

Past leadership[25][better source needed]
Year Meeting location President Executive Director
1944 Denver, CO Napoleon B. Johnson, Cherokee Ruth Muskrat Bronson, Cherokee
1945 Browning, MT N.B. Johnson Ruth Muskrat Bronson
1946 Oklahoma City, OK N.B. Johnson Ruth Muskrat Bronson
1947 Santa Fe, NM N.B. Johnson Ruth Muskrat Bronson
1948 Denver, CO N.B. Johnson Ruth Muskrat Bronson
1949 Rapid City, SD N.B. Johnson Louis R. Bruce, St. Regis Mohawk,
Edward Rogers, Minnesota Chippewa
1950 Bellingham, WA N.B. Johnson John C. Rainer, Taos Pueblo
1951 St. Paul, MN N.B. Johnson Ruth Muskrat Bronson, Cherokee
1952 Denver, CO N.B. Johnson Frank George, Colville
1953 Phoenix, AZ Joseph R. Garry, Coeur D'Alene Helen Peterson, Oglala Lakota
1954 Omaha, NE Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1955 Spokane, WA Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1956 Salt Lake City, UT Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1957 Claremore, OK Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1958 Missoula, MT Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1959 Phoenix, AZ Joseph R. Garry Helen Peterson
1960 Denver, CO Walter Wetzel, Blackfeet Robert Burnett, Rosebud Sioux
1961 Lewiston, ID Walter Wetzel Robert Burnett
1962 Cherokee, NC Walter Wetzel Robert Burnett
1963 Bismarck, ND Walter Wetzel Robert Burnett
1964 Sheridan, WY Walter Wetzel Vine Deloria Jr., Standing Rock Sioux
1965 Scottsdale, AZ Clarence Wesley, San Carlos Apache Vine Deloria, Jr.
1966 Oklahoma City, OK Clarence Wesley Vine Deloria, Jr.
1967 Portland, OR Wendell Chino, Mescalero Apache Vine Deloria, Jr.
1968 Omaha, NE Wendell Chino John Belindo, Navajo/Kiowa
1969 Albuquerque, NM Earl Old Person, Blackfeet Bruce Wilkie, Makah
1970 Anchorage, AK Earl Old Person Franklin Ducheneaux, Cheyenne River Sioux
1971 Reno, NV Leon F. Cook, Red Lake Chippewa Leo W. Vocu, Oglala Sioux
1972 Sarasota, FL Leon F. Cook Charles Trimble, Oglala Sioux
1973 Tulsa, OK Mel Tonasket, Colville Charles Trimble
1974 San Diego, CA Mel Tonasket Charles Trimble
1975 Portland, OR Mel Tonasket Charles Trimble
1976 Salt Lake City, UT Mel Tonasket Charles Trimble
1977 Dallas, TX Veronica L. Murdock, Mohave Charles Trimble
1978 Rapid City, SD Veronica L. Murdock Andrew E. Ebona, Tlingit
1979 Albuquerque, NM Edward Driving Hawk, Sioux Ronald Andrade, Luiseño/Kumeyaay
1980 Spokane, WA Edward Driving Hawk Ronald Andrade
1981 Anchorage, AK Joseph DeLaCruz, Quinault Ronald Andrade
1982 Bismarck, ND Joseph DeLaCruz Ronald Andrade
1983 Green Bay, WI Joseph DeLaCruz Silas Whitman, Nez Perce
1984 Spokane, WA Joseph DeLaCruz Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne/Muscogee
1985 Tulsa, OK Reuben A. Snake, Jr., Ho-Chunk Suzan Shown Harjo
1986 Phoenix, AZ Reuben A. Snake, Jr. Suzan Shown Harjo
1987 Tampa, FL Reuben A. Snake, Jr. Suzan Shown Harjo
1988 Sioux City, SD John Gonzales, San Ildefonso Pueblo

Suzan Shown Harjo

1989 Oklahoma City, OK John Gonzales Suzan Shown Harjo
1990 Albuquerque, NM Wayne L. Ducheneaux, Cheyenne River Sioux A. Gay Kingman, Cheyenne River Sioux
1991 San Francisco, CA Wayne L. Ducheneaux A. Gay Kingman
1992 Arlington, VA gaiashkibos, Lac Courte Oreilles Michael J. Anderson, Creek/Choctaw
1993 Reno, NV gaiashkibos Rachel A. Joseph, Shoshone/Paiute/Mono
1994 Denver, CO gaiashkibos JoAnn K. Chase, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara
1995 San Diego, CA gaiashkibos JoAnn K. Chase
1996 Phoenix, AZ W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam JoAnn K. Chase
1997 Santa Fe, NM W. Ron Allen JoAnn K. Chase
1998 Myrtle Beach, SC W. Ron Allen JoAnn K. Chase
1999 Palm Springs, CA W. Ron Allen JoAnn K. Chase
2000 St. Paul, MN Susan Masten, Yurok JoAnn K. Chase
2001 Spokane, WA Susan Masten Jacqueline Johnson, Tlingit
2002 San Diego, CA Tex G. Hall, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Jacqueline Johnson
2003 Albuquerque, NM Tex Hall Jacqueline Johnson
2004 Fort Lauderdale, FL Tex Hall Jacqueline Johnson
2005 Tulsa, OK Tex Hall Jacqueline Johnson
2006 Sacramento, CA Joe A. Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh Jacqueline Johnson
2007 Denver, CO Joe A. Garcia Jacqueline Johnson
2008 Phoenix, AZ Joe A. Garcia Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2009 Palm Springs, CA Joe A. Garcia Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2010 Albuquerque, NM Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2011 Portland, OR Jefferson Keel Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2012 Sacramento, CA Jefferson Keel Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2013 Tulsa, OK Jefferson Keel Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2014 Atlanta, Georgia Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2015 San Diego, CA Brian Cladoosby Jacqueline Johnson Pata
2016 Phoenix, AZ Brian Cladoosby Jacqueline Pata
2017 Milwaukee, WI Brian Cladoosby Jacqueline Pata
2018 Denver, CO Jefferson Keel Jacqueline Pata
2019 Albuquerque, NM Jefferson Keel Kevin Allis
2020 Fawn Sharp, Quinault
2021 Fawn Sharp
2022 Fawn Sharp Jefferson Keel
2023 New Orleans, LA Mark Macarro, Pechanga

Notable members

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "National Congress of American Indians". GuideStar. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Rickert, Levi (November 18, 2023). "National Congress of American Indians Swears in Newly Elected 2023-2025 Executive Committee". Native News Online. Yahoo News. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  3. ^ Cowger, Thomas W. The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  4. ^ "CN's Byrd re-elected to NCAI district post". Tahlequah Daily Press. October 26, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  5. ^ "Native American journalist, activist Chuck Trimble dies". Star Tribune.
  6. ^ Rosier, Paul C. (Winter 2006). "The Association on American Indian Affairs and the Struffle for Native American Rights, 1948–1965". The Princeton University Library Chronicle. 67 (2): 368. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Harvey, Gretchen G. (2004). "Bronson, Ruth Muskrat". In Ware, Susan; Braukman, Stacy (eds.). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Vol. 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 80–82. ISBN 978-0-674-01488-6.
  9. ^ a b Cowger 1999, p. 74.
  10. ^ Cowger 1999, p. 53.
  11. ^ Cowger 1999, p. 69.
  12. ^ Cowger 1999, pp. 110–111.
  13. ^ Cowger 1999, pp. 111–112.
  14. ^ Champagne, Duane (2001). The Native North American Almanac. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. ISBN 978-0787616557.
  15. ^ a b "Obama Administration Meets With Tribal Leaders To Discuss Public Safety Needs in Indian Country". PsycEXTRA Dataset. 2009. doi:10.1037/e502062010-003. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  16. ^ a b Peter D'Errico (January 10, 2017). "Native American Genocide or Holocaust?". Ict News. Archived from the original on March 24, 2022.
  17. ^ "Oneida Nation to Donate Indian Country Today Media Network Assets to NCAI". Indian Country Media Network. October 4, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  18. ^ Rickert, Levi. "National Congress of American Indians Establishes Foundation to Increase Philanthropic Funding in Indian Country". Native News Online. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ "California Becomes First State to Ban 'Redskins' Nickname". NBC News. October 12, 2015.
  21. ^ Rickert, Levi (November 14, 2023). "NCAI Faces Controversial Constitutional Amendments to Remove State Recognized Tribes". Native News Online. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  22. ^ VoteRiders Partner Organizations
  23. ^ Roller, Emma (October 10, 2013). "Old Poster Goes Viral, Teaches Multiple Lessons". Slate. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  24. ^ "NCAI Releases Report on History and Legacy of Washington's Harmful "Indian" Sports Mascot". Latino Rebels. October 10, 2013. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  25. ^ "Previous NCAI Leadership".
  26. ^ Fisher, Andrew H. (Winter 2013). "Speaking for the First Americans: Nipo Strongheart and the campaign for American Indian citizenship". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 114 (4): 441–452. doi:10.5403/oregonhistq.114.4.0441. ISSN 0030-4727. S2CID 159734621. Retrieved August 22, 2014.