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Native American Records

28 posts

(Authors note: the following post discusses, in part, death related records of individuals along with examples.)


Nearly 99 years ago, on October 10, 1922, Hairy Moccasin, a farmer on the Crow Reservation and one the then last living Custer scouts, passed away from tuberculosis.

National Archives Identifier 1135936


We know this because the National Archives holds Hairy Moccasin’s death certificate, among other records documenting his life which can be read about here. In the 1920’s the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) was working in cooperation with the U.S. Census Bureau to track Native birth and deaths, so certificates were to be generated for both and forwarded to the OIA headquarters for consolidation, before being sent to the Census Bureau. This was not a big departure for the agency; it had been compiling such data in volumes for several decades by that point. This is a unique aspect of Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs holdings here at the National Archives. Typically vital records, those documenting the birth and death of individuals, are not found in the National Archives, as said records are created and maintained at the state level. Given the Bureau of Indian Affairs responsibilities in administering tribal reservations, the records often depart from the typically dry bureaucratic nature of federal records and can often be used to track individual’s lives.




What birth and death records exist depends greatly both on the dates of the event and what reservations they were living on. The earliest records were bound registers into which births and deaths were noted.


A 1908 example of a birth register from the Blackfeet Agency (National Archives Identifier 1184791)


A 1908 example of a death register from the Blackfeet Agency (National Archives Identifier 1184791)


In some cases births, deaths, and illnesses were noted together in one volume - often in hospital records compiled by the agency physician. These pages from a 1903 sanitary record note children taken sick at the Zuni Boarding School and if they recovered. (National Archives Identifier 1367071)

The registers begin to fade out in the 1910’s, and soon after certificates start to emerge in the records. These early ones appear to be those filed with the state where the event occurred and a copy saved by the agency. As early as 1923 the OIA began working with the Census Bureau and researchers start to see one of two forms: the state certificate or a generic Bureau of Census one.


Here are two examples of birth certificates from the Albuquerque Indian School. Agencies would either have registered the event with the state, seen here with the New Mexico Bureau of Public Health’s Birth Certificate, or used the Bureau of the Census Standard Certificate of Birth. (National Archives Identifier 292863)


An example of the Bureau of Census Standard Certificate of Death, from the Northern Pueblos Agency records. (National Archives Identifier 1367572)


An example of a state level death certificate, this one from the Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics, as well as an Office of Indian Affairs Death Report postcard, to be filled out and sent to the agency superintendent. (National Archives Identifier 2579504)


The census rolls compiled by agency superintendents can be another great resource for birth and death information. Supplemental census sheets, seen here, would be compiled on births and deaths in between when the regular censuses were taken. (National Archives Identifier 1682588)



Short answer: everywhere! These records are only found at the agency level with the office that directly administered a reservation and so are found at National Archives facilities nationwide. It is very important to know which reservation the person you are researching lived on, to help narrow your records search. In some cases, there are dedicated series of birth and death records and in other cases, the records are filed in larger general administrative records. These administrative records are organized according to the OIA field’s decimal filing system that was fully instituted in 1926. The 700 series covers health and social relations, with 741 assigned to “Births” and 742 “Deaths.” All RG 75 series and many of the individual folder titles can be browsed via our online Catalog here, a great place to see what’s out there and which NARA facility holds the record.

The National Archives continues to digitize and make available online previously microfilmed collections. In the last few months this has included several collections of superintendency records, dating back to the early 19th century. The first three online are from Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.


What are the Superintendencies?


During the 19th century, superintendencies and agencies were the two principal field jurisdictions of the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA). The superintendencies covered a specific area, territory, or state, and supervised the Indian Agents therein. Until 1875, the records of individual Indian Agents, who were responsible for the affairs of a tribe or reservation, were considered their own property and sometimes not saved. In these cases, the superintendent’s records are often all that we have left noting the actions of Indian Agents. Frequently the governor of a state or territory acted as superintendent, and the jurisdictions themselves changed as territories were carved into states, borders shifted, or the need for oversight waned.


The superintendencies were discontinued in the 1870s, with the last shuttered in 1878, and agencies then reported directly to the OIA Commissioner. In the 1940s, area offices were created, once again based on geographic locations like  the superintendencies. These continue to exist today as regional offices.


What’s in the Records?


These microfilm collections were not organic series but rather amalgams of various series, microfilmed in the 1970s to bring together related records for each superintendency. They consist largely of correspondence but also feature reports, statistics, daybooks, ledgers, contracts, bonds, and ephemera, such as newspaper clippings or monograph pages. Topics include the negotiation and enforcement of treaties, land, emigration, law and order, annuity payments, intertribal hostilities, military operations, depredation claims, traders and licenses, missionaries and schools, agency building matters, and employees. While most of the letters are from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or agents within the superintendency, correspondence can also be found with the Army, Treasury Department, General Land Office, missionaries, local citizens, and Native Americans themselves. Generally organized chronologically, each series has a inventory that can be found and downloaded by searching the microfilm number, such as M5, here.


An 1828 letter authorizing funds for a council. Note the War Department return address; while relations with tribes had been delegated to the War Department since the creation of the United States, in 1824 a formal Office of Indian Affairs was opened within the War Department. It remained there until 1849, when it was transferred to the then newly created Department of Interior.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 22, Image 214


Reward circular from 1824 concerning a missing officer in the War of 1812, suspected of being kidnapped by a Lake Superior area tribe.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 12, Image 266


List of Yakima Indian Agency employees in 1866, along with home state and salary. Included with the Indian Agent, physician, carpenter, farmer, miller, gunsmith, blacksmith, and interpreter are four school staff - from our last blog on BIA schools, note Yakima was the site of the first boarding school opening in 1860.

Records of the Washington Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1853-1874 (M5) Roll 18, Image 379


Excerpt from the Oregon Superintendent’s 1865 annual report, detailing the accumulation of historical records that need to be preserved, so asking for funds for another iron safe “large enough to hold all the records.”

Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1848-1873 (M2) Roll 9, Image 368


Alphabetical List of Superintendencies


Arizona Superintendency (1863-1873)

Arkansas Superintendency (1819-1834, transferred to the Western Superintendency)

California Superintendency (1852-1873)

Central Superintendency (1851-1878)

Colorado Superintendency (1861-1870)

Dakota Superintendency (1861-1870, 1877-1878)

Florida Superintendency (1824-1834)

Idaho Superintendency (1863-1870)

Iowa Superintendency (1838-1846, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Michigan Superintendency (1805-1851, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Minnesota Superintendency (1849-1856, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Missouri Superintendency (1813-1848, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Montana Superintendency (1864-1873)

Nevada Superintendency (1861-1870)

New Mexico Superintendency (1850-1874)

Northern Superintendency (1851-1876)

Oregon Superintendency (1848-1873)

Southern Superintendency (1851-1870)

St. Louis Superintendency (1822-1851, transferred to the Central Superintendency)

Utah Superintendency (1850-1870)

Washington Superintendency (1853-1874)

Western Superintendency (1832-1851, transferred to the Southern Superintendency)

Wisconsin Superintendency (1836-1848, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Wyoming Superintendency (1869-1870)

When Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools are discussed, often the infamous off-reservation boarding schools, such as the Carlisle Institute, are typically the first to come to mind. However, the BIA ran several different types of schools, so hopefully this blog can act as a quick introduction for those researching individual students, school employees, or education in general.


Reservation Boarding Schools

Girl’s Dormitory at Rosebud Boarding School, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1897

(National Archives Identifier 76046399)


The reservation boarding schools were those built on the reservation. These were the earliest of the boarding schools, emerging from many treaties in which the text called for the creation of schools or education programs. Within the spate of treaties in the 1850s came the first reservation boarding school, on the Yakima reservation in 1860. From these schools came the idea that educators needed to remove the students even further from their people to fully assimilate them, thus bringing about the non-reservation boarding schools. Yet these reservation boarding schools continued – they were run under the respective BIA agency, so while there may be dedicated series, the records are often mixed in with general agency records.


Non-Reservation Boarding Schools

Albuquerque Indian School, New Mexico ca. 1885 (National Archives Identifier 292865)


The non-reservation boarding schools started in 1879 and were built apart from reservations, often located at former army fort sites. The student body tended to be diverse, with students from a variety of tribal nations. These schools operated independently of BIA agencies, reporting directly to the commissioner, so non-reservation boarding schools will often have their own dedicated record series in our collection and are therefore the most researched and referenced. That said, given their separate nature, if one was shuttered prior to the 1940's, and many were closed from 1910 through 1940, often no records were directly saved and what is left is whatever smattering of related records were saved by other BIA agencies and offices.


Day Schools

Pueblo of Sandia Day School, New Mexico, 1936 (National Archives Identifier 2669383)


Day schools were by far the most numerous and least controversial, given they were based on the traditional concept of a student going to school during the day and returning home at night. As BIA education efforts were standardized, day schools became somewhat equivalent to elementary schools, feeding students into either boarding schools or local high schools. You could have dozens of day schools on one reservation. Records for individuals attending these schools often moved with the student to their next school, so finding strictly day school student case files is rare. As with the reservation boarding schools, records of these schools are usually mixed in with general agency records.


Mission Schools

St. Ann’s Mission Day School, North Dakota, Undated (National Archives Identifier 118972317)


Mission schools were the earliest attempts at Eurocentric education and assimilation of Native Americans and some of these schools date back before the Revolutionary War. Early on, many were boarding schools but later switched to the day school model. Mission schools were not run by the BIA but rather by various church denominations so researchers often erroneously assume that mission schools are not documented in our collections. While our holdings do not provide the level of detail we have for other schools, mission schools were required to submit monthly attendance reports to their respective agency, so depending on the agency these were sometimes saved. Many of these schools and the accompanying churches are located deep in tribal lands, as part of the allotment process during the assimilation era granted allotments to schools and churches.


Public Schools

If an individual does not appear in any BIA school records, there is a strong chance they attended a public school and due to curriculums and prejudices, the assimilation aspect was often just as acute as at BIA schools. As with mission schools, the local BIA agency required reports from public schools so proof of attendance and some limited information may be available, if these reports were saved. Public school records sometimes show up in BIA financial files; since reservations are exempt from property taxes, some school districts required the BIA to pay for each student, setting off a complicated formula for that exact cost.


The growing prevalence of students attending public schools can be seen

in this excerpt from a 1931 report of the Fort Belknap Agency.

The National Archives continues to digitize and make available online previously microfilmed collections. One of the most recent collections to go live, the Office of Indian Affairs Superintendents' Annual Narrative and Statistical Reports, is a rich resource for researching American Indian history.


Prepared and sent annually to the Office of Indian Affairs Commissioner by superintendents of various jurisdictions (which could be agencies, schools, hospitals, etc.), the files consist of two parts: a narrative report and a statistical report. These reports were filed separately but later consolidated for the microfilm publication, and are organized by jurisdiction and thereunder by year. The years covered vary - there are no statistical reports prior to 1920 because they were considered temporary up until then.


The narrative reports document the operation and accomplishments of each jurisdiction, broken up by topics such as health, industry, law and order, and land. Drawings, photographs, maps, and even news clippings can often be found. Overall, they provide a snapshot of reservation life for that particular year.


Excerpt from Klamath Agency’s 1920 narrative report noting the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

(Source here, image #279)


Excerpt from the Greenville Indian School’s 1919 report, showing a pie eating contest. (Source here, image #887)


The statistical reports are more standardized than the narrative reports, prepared on forms provided to the superintendents. As with any government agency, the forms become increasingly detailed and more statistics requested as the years progress. The information found in these includes general population, school enrollment, health, and agricultural statistics.


List of students showing their tribal affiliation from the 1920 Genoa Indian School statistical report. For off-reservation

boarding schools such as Genoa that closed in the 1920s, often no records directly from the school were saved, so these reports are

all that is left to detail the school’s operations. (Source here, image #117)


So if your research finds you examining the general conditions for a particular reservation, a hospital, or a non-reservation boarding school, feel free to dive in and browse - with 173 microfilm rolls of usually more than 1,000 pages each now digitized and online, there’s still a lot to be discovered!


The microfilmed reports were organized alphabetically by jurisdiction, thereunder by date. Each microfilm roll is now a file unit in our Catalog, so either search for jurisdiction or browse down through the list of results.

Today, we are pleased to announce that the National Archives launched a new web-based finding aid featuring digitized historical photographs from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records in Record Group 75. For the first time, you can explore digital copies of over 18,000 photographs through an engaging and easy-to-use online experience: the Bureau of Indian Affairs Photographs Finding Aid.


User-Driven, Powered by Citizen Archivists

NARA conducted research of users and stakeholders, followed by user testing, to ensure this finding aid is useful to a broad spectrum of users. Users and stakeholders consulted included archivists and other information science professionals with experience in Native American records, members of Tribal Nations, and representatives of organizations with connections to Tribal communities.


These users and stakeholders also provided feedback on the topics used in the finding aid. Once the final list of topics was selected, we curated the photographs into the Native American Photographs Tagging Mission to recruit the help of citizen archivists in tagging the photographs with these topics. The citizen archivist tags are used to power the presentation of photographs by topic in the finding aid. We appreciate the hard work of our citizen archivists who made this possible!


User-experience and technical development experts, archivists, and subject matter experts from NARA worked together to develop this finding aid. The finding aid uses the National Archives Catalog application programming interface (API) so when new records are digitized and added to the Catalog, they automatically get pulled into the finding aid. Additionally, the finding aid uses the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF)—a standardized framework for cultural institutions to provide access to images online—for an optimal design and user experience in viewing the photographs on all types of devices.


Using the Finding Aid

The landing page to the finding aid allows you to explore the photographs by Tribal Nation, topic, or state. If you don’t know where to start, you can select any of the photographs on the landing page to learn more about that image and to find more photographs by clicking any of the Tribal Nations, topics, or states listed.


We have also provided entry points into the records through interactive maps and data visualizations. By clicking on “States,” you can use the map provided to find photographs located in specific states.



From the landing page, you can scroll down to “Explore Tribal Nations” to expand a data visualization showing the topics available for featured Tribal Nations.


By clicking on Tribal Nation or topics from the landing page, you can browse the photographs from an alphabetical list of the Tribal Nations or topics available.


Additionally, from the bottom of the landing page you can explore photographs of notable Native Americans throughout history.


This project will continue to grow and evolve as NARA digitizes more photographs from the Bureau of Indian Affairs records. Therefore, some Tribal Nations, topics, and geographic areas may not yet be fully represented.

Please visit the Bureau of Indian Affairs Photographs Finding Aid and let us know what you think!

Treaties Explorer

Hundreds of Native American treaties have been scanned and are freely available online, for the first time, through the National Archives Catalog. Also, in partnership with The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC), these treaties and extensive additional historical and contextual information are available through Treaties Explorer.

Ratified Indian Treaty showing signatures
Ratified Indian Treaty 37: Eel River, Wyandot, Piankashaw, Kaskaskia, and Kickapoo - Vincennes, Indiana Territory, August 7, 1803. National Archives Identifier 81145643

Thanks to an anonymous donation, the National Archives was able to do needed conservation work, scan and digitize this historically and culturally important collection. These records are accessible for anyone, anywhere, through our National Archives Catalog.

Through the Treaties Explorer, you can view historic maps and the agreements and tribes that relate, as well as the historical and present day tribes involved in the treaties.

Screenshot of the Treaties Explorer website, showing Treaties and Cessions with the Shawnee

Now, many more descendants of the original peoples can examine the names and seals and read the words set down by their ancestors so long ago. But more than that, the treaties are still relevant today as tribal leaders and lawyers continue to use them to assert their rights in court, such as in cases over land and water rights.

Be sure to check the Resources on the Treaties Explorer website, which include classroom ready curriculum and a set of three guides to increase your knowledge of treaties and how to research using the Treaties Explorer.

Volunteer as a Citizen Archivist

Ratified Indian Treaties

Would you like to help make these treaties more searchable online? Help us transcribe handwritten treaties, attested Senate resolutions of ratification, printed copies of treaties, and manuscript copies of Presidential ratifications and confirmations of the treaties. Some treaty files contain copies of messages from the President to Congress, copies of messages or letters of instruction to the treaty commissioners, and journals and correspondence of the commissioners.

Ratified Indian Treaty first page
Ratified Indian treaty showing signature page

Ratified Indian Treaty 316: Sauk [Sac] and Fox of the Missouri and Iowa - Great Nemaha Agency, Nebraska Territory, March 6, 1861. National Archives Identifier 74799192

New to the Citizen Archivist program? Learn how to register and get started.


Be sure to join the Citizen Archivists community here on History Hub!

History Hub
Also be sure to explore the American Indian Records community here on History Hub!  Bring your questions about Native American history and records, or help answer other users' questions!

The Catalog Newsletter

Learn about newly added records and receive tips on using the Catalog's features, functionality, and guides. The National Archives Catalog is the online public portal to our records where you can learn more about our holdings. This email newsletter is delivered on a biweekly basis. Subscribe to the National Archives Catalog Newsletter

Native American Activism on the airwaves with the Seeing Red Radio Archive

by Julie Fiveash


The Archives at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM is home to the “Seeing Red Radio Archive,” a collection of 89, 1/4” reel-to-reel audio recordings and 91 digital surrogates of the radio program hosted by Suzan Shown Harjo and Frank Harjo from 1972 to 1977. Recorded at WBAI-New York, Seeing Red “was the first nationally syndicated radio program focused on contemporary Native American issues.” (1) Seeing Red featured news segments, music, lectures, and interviews with Native American artists, activists, and leaders.


This archive is a powerful educational tool, as an in depth look at Native American activism within the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the occupation of Alcatraz through interviews with those participating in those events, this radio program “can supplement existing colonial historical narratives with alternative narratives.”(2)  Teachers and educators looking for materials to give context to these events can look through this archive and find segments such as “Seeing Red - Student Views,” a episode that interviewed Indigenous students attending high school and elementary school and what they thought about their treatment in school and how their education addressed Native American history.  These snapshots of Indigenous life and activism in the 1970s can help facilitate discussions on how these issues are still being dealt with today in Indigenous communities around the world.


The Seeing Red Radio Archive is a part of the Suzan Shown Harjo Papers, donated to the IAIA archives in 2017. Susan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muskogee) is a Native American rights advocate as well as a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate. Harjo has served as the Congressional liaison on Indian Affairs under the Carter Administration and was the President of the National Council of American Indians. She is one of the leading voices in the work to abolish harmful stereotypes of Native Americans within sports mascots and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.


For more information, contact the Institute of American Indian Arts Archives:




(2) Seeing Red Radio Archive, Suzan Shown Harjo Papers. IAIA Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Early photographs are rare enough for most families, even more so for those living on reservations and allotted tribal lands across the west. This makes the Bureau of Indian Affairs Industrial Surveys, taken nationwide to document family's living and farming conditions, a welcome and rich resource.


Edward Kirkaldie and family, Fort Belknap Reservation (



The original records, organized by BIA agency, were sent to the BIA Commissioner in Washington DC. The surveys were then bound and today are found at our Washington DC branch. These unfortunately have not been digitized but some BIA agencies saved local copies and NARA field units have worked to digitize and make these available online, such as those seen here in this blog post.

Blackbull, a 52-year-old Blackfeet, along with his granddaughter. (


For a deeper dive into the genesis of the surveys and how to research, read more here;

And for inquires into the overall collection, reach out to;

87 years ago this month President Roosevelt issued an executive order kicking off the then just passed Emergency Conservation Work Act. The rest, as they say, is history as research into ECW and CCC programs, projects, and enrollees continues today by researchers and genealogists alike.


Less well known was similar legislation passed creating the parallel Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) program, later known as the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID). Similar in function yet with several notable differences, the CCC-ID helped make a difference on reservations nationwide and often led to Native Americans obtaining regular employment with the BIA. Learn more about the history, records, and how to research them in this Prologue essay;



(Image source:

The National Archives has embarked on a project to digitize microfilm series and get them into our online Catalog, where researchers can browse, bounce around, or zero in on particular sections throughout hundreds of microfilm rolls in the comfort of their own home. Or coffee shop. Or bar. Or wherever now! As the National Archives Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records I’m very excited to start sharing with the researching public those Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) seres going live. And with that, let’s start with the crown jewel, the 962-roll collection “Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881." A staple of historical monograph bibliographies for years, this entire series is now in the Catalog.


Chronicling some of the most contentious eras in American Indian and Federal Government relations, this series spans the removal, treaty, and beginning of the assimilation eras. Each roll has gone into the Catalog as a file unit and is organized by Superintendency or Agency, then organized by date. Superintendencies, discontinued in the later part of the 19th century only to be revived as area offices in the 1940’s, had jurisdiction over a geographic area while agencies, continually in use, were immediately responsible for a particular tribal nation or nations.


What sort of records are in this collection? Correspondence and reports from superintendents and agents of the Office of Indian Affairs but also at times letters from private citizens, American Indians themselves, presidents, congressmen, Department of Treasury officials, General Land Office officials, War Department officials, all serving to show how intertwined the Office of Indian Affairs business with the government at large. Topics covered run the gamut, including education, health, medical care, finances, general administrative issues, agriculture, land, emigration, finances, claims, complaints, instructions, request, and decisions.


If you’re not looking to browse, and have a very specific date or person in mind, you might wish to first consult the “Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880,” on microfilm series M18 but now also in the Catalog. The 126 rolls of M18 act as an index of sorts for M234 and list the letters received, noting the name of writer and date it was written. Later information included was date it was received, location of writer, summary, and assigned heading. These too have been digitized and can be browsed via our Catalog as well.


Please note, many of these records are in cursive!


“Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881” (M234)


“Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880” (M18)


Here is an 1880 letter, a somewhat banal example discussing stationary from the Los Pinos Agency in Colorado. This is a good example to highlight some of the filing issues; at times agency letters were grouped under the overall superintendency, in this case the Colorado Superintendency, so one should note that when researching a specific agency.

Researching Native History Webinar from the New Mexico Humanities Council


Scheduled for Nov 8, 2018, 7pm EST on YouTube


Join Vina Begay, librarian at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, to learn about how to approach doing NHD resesarch on Native history materials, including identifying newspapers, libraries, and archives.


The National Archives has digitized thousands of documents, images, and movies related to Native American history and culture.  This is the fifth in a series of blogs highlighting the records available online through the National Archives catalog.  Interested in photos of Indian Reservations?  Check out this blog for more information.


NAID 50926110.pngMap of the Eastern Boundary of the Ute Indian Reservation, NAID 50926110




Federal Indian Reservations are officially defined as “an area of land reserved for a tribe or tribes under treaty or other agreement with the United States, executive order, or federal statute or administrative action as permanent tribal homelands, and where the federal government holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Currently there are 326 federal Indian Reservations, which cover 56 million acres in 25 US states.


Central Map File, 1800 – 1960

40 digitized maps of tribal lands and reservations.


The modern federal Indian Reservation system began with the passage of the Indian Appropriations Act in 1851.  The act authorized the setting aside of tracts of land for removed Native American tribes, ostensibly in order to protect them from further encroachment by white settlers.  These reservations came to be managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which was created in 1824 to manage relations between Native Americans and the US Government. The BIA enacted a program of religious and cultural assimilation among reservation inhabitants, including the creation of Indian Schools to erase traditional knowledge and practices from Native American children.


"Long-hair" letter from Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Superintendent, Round Valley, California.

1902 letter instructing the Superintendent to discourage men from wearing long hair and both genders from painting their faces.


1888: File 5179

Correspondence about the use of brass tags as identification among the Tonto, San Carlos, Coyotero, Yuma and Mojave tribes. Included in the file are photos of five sample brass tags to be worn by male members of the tribes.


Letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Superintendent of the Consolidated Ute Agency

1926 letter instructing the Superintendent to oppose the use of peyote in religious ceremonies.


The 1930s saw a period of reform of the federal government’s policy towards Native Americans.  The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (colloquially referred to as the “Indian New Deal” was intended to reverse the BIA’s policy of Native American assimilation and federal control of reservations.  The act put reservation assets under tribal control and encouraged sustainable self-rule for the inhabitants of reservations.  The rise of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and 1970s brought further calls for Native American rights and self-determination in the reservation system.


An Act of June 18, 1934, Public Law 73-383, 48 STAT 984, to Conserve and Develop Indian Lands and Resources; To Extend to Indians the Right to Form Business and other Organizations; To Establish a Credit System for Indians; To Grant Certain Rights of Home Rule to Indians; To Provide for Vocational Education for Indians; and for Other Purposes


(Annual) Narrative Report of the Superintendent, Sacramento Indian Agency, California for the Fiscal Years 1936 and 1937, by Roy Nash, ca. 10/1/1937

Includes on- and off-reservation Native American population statistics, California reservation lands, industrial development, and social conditions.


Special Action Files of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs for the 93rd Congress

Investigation of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.


Bradley Patterson's Native American Programs Files, 1974 – 1976

Correspondence between Native American representatives and the Nixon and Ford Administrations about the issues facing specific tribes and reservations


NAID 5964876 Collage.jpgBrass Identification Tags, NAID 5964876


Of course, this blog post is far from comprehensive- for any researcher, a thorough perusal of the National Archives catalog is an absolute must.  For more tips on searching for digitized records in the catalog, check out this post on Expanding Your Digital Toolkit.  Researchers interested in records described in the catalog that haven’t been digitized should get in touch with the appropriate National Archives reference unit using the contact information at the bottom of the page.

Tracing Winema

Posted by Cherkea Howery Expert Aug 15, 2017

After reading the Prologue article about Winema Riddell, a Modoc woman who acted as a mediator for the US government, I used the Innovation Hub to make her pension available on the National Archives Catalog.

While we don’t know how many pensions were awarded by a congressional act, the number provided to women for their service is fairly low, especially Native American women!  That being said, here is another case from 1844 concerning a Creek woman, Milly Francis.  You can find the House and Senate reports for Winema Riddell’s case on Proquest.


Another interesting tidbit is that the image of Winema in our collection was photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, who held the patent for photographing moving objects.  You can check out other stereographs taken by him while visiting the Still Picture Research Room at Archives II in College Park, Maryland and by searching the Catalog.  

Further records of interest about Winema and the Modoc War that are available online, include: Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1871–1880 (M666) and the Indian Census Rolls, 1885–1940 (M595).  You can read about the government’s concerns with regard to the Modocs in the former and view Winema’s listing on the Klamath Rolls until her death in 1920 in the latter.

Finally, more information about the Modoc War exists in the holdings at Archives I in Washington, DC in the Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands (RG 393), which contain letters received from Indian Agents leading up to the war (Entry A1-1 718). 

The National Archives has digitized thousands of documents, images, and movies related to Native American history and culture.  This is the fourth in a series of blogs highlighting the records available online through the National Archives catalog.



NAID 298645.png

Hay operation at Duckwater Reservation (Idaho and Nevada). Gene Thompson (Mission) and Drew Mike (Piaute).




Federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Indian Affairs, documented the Native American residents of reservations as well as their living and working conditions.  The photos in the entries document daily life, work (especially farming), construction projects, houses, reservation schools, and traditional crafts.


Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)

Photographs, 1900-1960: 852 photographs mostly focusing on agriculture, land, and Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division projects created by the Rosebud Agency.


Three Affiliated Tribes (Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan) (North Dakota)

Photographs, 1900-1960: 866 photographs, including photos of areas of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation that were flooded by the Construction of the Garrison Dam in 1946.


Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe (Wyoming)

Photographs, 1898-1953: 16 photos of reservation activities created by the Wind River Agency.


Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe (North Dakota)

Photographs, ca. 1914 - ca. 1936: 300 photos recording daily life of Native Americans at the Fort Totten Agency in North Dakota.


Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (North Dakota)

Photographs, ca. 1930-ca. 1949: 5277 photographs documenting projects, including Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division projects, from the Standing Rock Agency.


Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (South Dakota)

Photographs, 1920-1965: 735 photographs documenting residences and projects, including Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division projects, on the Lake Travers Indian Reservation in North Dakota and South Dakota (Sisseton Agency).


Oglala Sioux (South Dakota)

Pine Ridge Agency: Miscellaneous Photographs, 1923 – 1955: Over 2,000 black and white photos from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Includes photos of building projects, farming and industry on the reservation, cultural events, and individuals.


Main Decimal Files, 1900 – 1965: 26 photos documenting life on the Pine Ridge Reservation.


Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (Minneconjou, SiHaSapa, Oohenumpa, and Itazipco bands of the Lakota or Great Sioux Nation) (South Dakota)

Cheyenne River Agency: Photographs, 1900 – 1960: 87 photos from the Aberdeen Area Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Montana)

Glass Negatives and Photographs, 1911-1939: 65 images documenting the Flathead Irrigation Project in Montana.


Southern Ute Tribe (Colorado)

Industrial Survey for the Southern Ute Agency, Colorado (Decimal Files, 1879-1952): 19 photographs documenting "homes, farms, and general life of a band of Southern Utes"


Colorado River Reservation (Arizona and California)

Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority, 1942 – 1945: Several photographs of residents of the Colorado Indian Reservation, which housed a War Relocation Authority center for Japanese internees in WWII.


Lac du Flambaeau Agency (Wisconsin)

Surveys of Indian Industry, 1922: 132 photos of Chippewa and Potawatomi Native Americans posed with their houses. Each photo includes a list of all the members of the households, their occupations, and observations about their work habits and personalities.


Tsimshian Indian Community (Alaska and British Columbia)

Photographs of the Inhabitants of Metlakatla, British Columbia and Metlakatla, Alaska, ca. 1856 – 1936: During this period, Tsimshian lived both on federally recognized reservations and independent villages.


Multiple Reservations

Minneapolis Area Office: Photographs, 1920 – 1971: 13 photos of from rural Minnesota, the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and Talihina, Oklahoma.


Classified Files of the Extension and Credit Office, 1931 – 1946: 46 photographs documenting the agricultural activities of the Office of Indian Affairs Division of Extension and Industry based in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Desk Files of the Tribal Operations Branch, 1934 – 1951: 32 photos from the records of Gerorge P. LaVatta, a BIA field agent. Photos document Native Americans working on the Hoover and Boulder Dams, Indian schools, and events at the Fort Hall reservation.


DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency's Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern, 1972 – 1977: This series includes several photos featuring Native Americans at work both on and off reservations.  These photos are mixed in with photos of many other subjects.


Henry Peabody Collection, 1890 – 1935: 10 photos of Hopi and Wichita Native Americans.


Central Classified Files, 1927 – 1952: About 20 photos documenting forestry activities on reservations supervised by the BIA Phoenix Area Office, including Hopi and Navajo projects.



Of course, this blog post is far from comprehensive- for any researcher, a thorough perusal of the National Archives catalog is an absolute must.  For more tips on searching for digitized records in the catalog, check out this post on Expanding Your Digital Toolkit.  Researchers interested in records described in the catalog that haven’t been digitized should get in touch with the appropriate National Archives reference unit using the contact information at the bottom of the page.


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We gi ma wa ji wong (Joe Shadame, Sr.)

Definitions of Indian and Indian Tribe


Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 allowed people of Indian descent who were not members of federally recognized tribes to apply for recognition as an Indian.  The IRA also allowed tribes to set up their own governments with the rules for determining membership. This Act defined a person as Indian based on three criteria, tribal membership, ancestral descent, or blood quantum.  The applications the federal government used  had five factors to certify individuals who claimed to be more than half-blood Indian: tribal rolls, testimony of the applicant, affidavits from people familiar with the applicant, findings of an anthropologist, and testimony of the applicant that he has retained "a considerable measure of Indian culture and habits of living." We have records in RG 75, Entry 616.


Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975

Gave tribes better self control over their own affairs, allowing them to apply directly for federal grants and programs.


The 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act uses a two-part definition that defines an Indian as a person who belongs to an Indian Tribe, which in turn is a group that "is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians."


Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990

In the Act, Indian was described as "any individual who is a member of an Indian tribe; or for the purpose of this section is certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian tribe." An Indian tribe was defined more broadly than just to tribes with federal recognition, but also to "any Indian group that has been formally recognized as an Indian tribe by a State legislature or by a State commission or similar organization legislatively vested with State tribal recognition authority."


The 1994 Federal Legislation amendments to American Indian Religious Freedom Act gives another common definition, defining an Indian as one who belongs to an Indian Tribe, which is a group that "is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians."


Supreme  Court Carciere decision- 2010

Defines a tribe eligible to have land put into trust as one that was recognized by the Federal Government under the IRA in 1934.


Ruling by Interior Department allowing the Cowlitz to acquire land and set up a casino, established another precedent…that the landless tribe should be “on an equal footing” with other tribes that already have reservations when being first recognized since 1934 and having the right to get a reservation established for them, which would then be eligible for gaming



25 CFR 151.2 - Definitions.

(b)Tribe means any Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, community, rancheria, colony, or other group of Indians, including the Metlakatla Indian Community of the Annette Island Reserve, which is recognized by the Secretary as eligible for the special programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For purposes of acquisitions made under the authority of 25 U.S.C.488 and 489, or other statutory authority which specifically authorizes trust acquisitions for such corporations, “Tribe” also means a corporation chartered under section 17 of the Act of June 18, 1934 ( 48 Stat. 988; 25 U.S.C. 477) or section 3 of the Act of June 26, 1936 ( 49 Stat. 1967; 25 U.S.C. 503).

(c)Individual Indian means:

(1) Any person who is an enrolled member of a tribe;

(2) Any person who is a descendent of such a member and said descendant was, on June 1, 1934, physically residing on a federally recognized Indian reservation;

(3) Any other person possessing a total of one-half or more degree Indian blood of a tribe;

(4) For purposes of acquisitions outside of the State of Alaska, Individual Indian also means a person who meets the qualifications of paragraph (c)(1), (2), or (3) of this section where “Tribe” includes any Alaska Native Village or Alaska Native Group which is recognized by the Secretary as eligible for the special programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


45 CFR 1336.10 - Definitions.

Alaskan Native means a person who is an Alaskan Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut, or any combination thereof. The term also includes any person who is regarded as an Alaskan Native by the Alaskan Native Village or group of which he or she claims to be a member and whose father or mother is (or, if deceased, was) regarded as an Alaskan Native by an Alaskan Native Village or group. The term includes any Alaskan Native as so defined, either or both of whose adoptive parents are not Alaskan Natives.

American Indian or Indian means any individual who is a member or a descendant of a member of a North American tribe, band, Pueblo or other organized group of native people who are indigenous to the Continental United States, or who otherwise have a special relationship with the United States or a State through treaty, agreement, or some other form of recognition. This includes any individual who claims to be an Indian and who is regarded as such by the Indian tribe, group, band, or community of which he or she claims to be a member.

The Federal Decennial Census for 2010 presented choices and an individual’s response to the race question was based upon self identification.