Pan-Indianism is a philosophy and movement promoting unity among different American Indian groups in the Americas regardless of tribal or local affiliations.[1] The movement is largely associated with Native Americans in the United States, but has spread to other indigenous groups as well. Pan-Indian organizations seek to pool the resources of indigenous groups in order to protect the interests of native peoples across the world.[2]



Early steps in the organization effort occurred in 1912 when members of the Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes, united by their opposition to Allotment, formed the Four Mothers Society for collective political action. Also in 1912, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood came together, centering on their shared interest of the protection of Native resources.[3] In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, which reversed assimilation and allotment policies.[4] This was an important step for Native American affairs. Among other things, this act granted "legal sanction to tribal landholdings; returned unsold allotted lands to tribes; made provisions for the purchase of new lands; encouraged tribal constitutions, systems of justice, and business corporations; expanded educational opportunities through new facilities and loans [. . .]; advocated the hiring of Indians by the Office of Indian Affairs [. . .]; extended the Indian Trust Status; and granted Indians Religious Freedom."[4] The Pan-Indian movement grouped all Indians into one dominant culture, rather than recognizing individual tribal culture and practices.

Key events

In 1911 the first national Indian political organization was created, the Society of American Indians. This organization pursued such things as better Indian educational programs and improved living conditions.[5] The Society of American Indians was the most influenticial of the early pan-Indian organizations. It played a critical role in advocating Indian citizenship, which was finally granted by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.[3]

Before World War II and throughout the 1940s and '50s native activism was less developed and for the most part non-violent. Many leaders made a genuine effort to work with the American government. In 1922, as a symbolic gesture, Deskaheh, a Cayuga chief, traveled to the League of Nations in Geneva in hopes of obtaining recognition of his tribe's sovereignty but his request was denied. In 1939, the Tonowanda Band of the Seneca tribe issued a "Declaration of Independence" to the state of New York. It was ignored and natives who broke state law were arrested. In other cases, American Indian tribes struggled to maintain their sovereignty over tribal land that had been granted to them by treaties with the federal government. Unrelated Native American groups, and Americans in general, began to notice and sympathize with their aims.

For one week in June 1961, 420 American Indians from 67 tribes convened for the American Indian Chicago Conference held at the University of Chicago.[6]:13 After exchanging opinions that covered many aspects of Indian affairs, the Declaration of Indian Purpose was drafted.[7]

In 1989, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, also known as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention No. 169, occurred. To date, this has been the only formally binding international convention that specifically applies to indigenous peoples. The conference recognized the goal of native groups to maintain their position as entities independent of national governments.[8]


Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood

The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood was founded in 1912 with a goal of protecting Native resources.[3] The only organization representing native rights in Alaska for the first half of the 20th century. Currently, the organization is opposing the U.S. Federal law that makes the collection and ownership of eagle feathers illegal.

All Indian Pueblo Council

The All Indian Pueblo Council, founded in 1922, successfully opposed the proposed Bursum Bill, which legislated rights for squatters on Native grounds along the Rio Grande.[3] The All Indian Pueblo Council declared that Pueblo Indians had been living in a "civilized condition" long before Americans came over to America. They appealed to public morality by claiming to have pride in their past. The All Pueblo Council needed public support to help preserve lands, customs, and traditions; and to turn interest to the Pueblo tribes so they can gain assistance in court.[9]

American Indian Movement

A black, yellow, white, and red flag with and image of a hand displaying a peace sign and the profile of a man's face.
Flag of the American Indian Movement

The American Indian Movement was created in 1968 in Minneapolis by Chippewa (Ojibway) Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, and Clyde Bellecourt, and Lakota-Dakota Sioux Russell Means.[10] AIM is well known for its involvement in the Wounded Knee incident in 1973, and the seizure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972.[10] AIM was famous for the "direct action" approach that it used to protesting, demonstrating, and ultimately working towards their goals.[11]:19 AIM took an entirely different approach than other American Indian activist organizations, in the context that it was for the assimilation of American Indians into American culture and general lifestyle. They explored the idea that assimilation may not be the most effective method of bettering American Indian life. The AIM promoted assimilation and the abolition of the Office of Indian Affairs (which was promoting assimilation). The AIM was the most influential of the early pan-Indian organizations.[12]

Association on American Indian Affairs

The Association on American Indian Affairs, also known as AAIA, has a mission to improve Native American health, education, and economic and community development, while maintaining tradition, culture, and language. Protecting Native American sovereignty, natural resources, and constitutional, legal, and human rights is also included in their mission.[13]

Black Hills Treaty Council

The Black Hills Treaty Council was established in the South Dakota in 1911 on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation to prepare a suit in the U.S. Court of Claims.[9]

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, also known as CRITFC, was created in 1977 by four tribes the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama, to "renew their authority in fisheries management."[14] Their mission also includes protecting treaty rights for fishing guaranteed by treaties with the federal government "through the exercise of the inherent sovereign powers of the tribes.".[14]

"For generations, traditional fishing authorities governed tribal communities on the Columbia River. One such authority was the old "Celilo Fish Committee." The authority exercised by the Celilo Fish Committee was derived from the sovereign powers of the people living and fishing in nearby tribal territories. The committee ordained fishing practices that were disciplined and designed to serve a high purpose: to ensure that the salmon resource was served first—even worshipped—so that it would flourish and always exist.".[14]

Indian Defense League of America

The Indian Defense League of America was founded in 1926 by Chief Clinton Rickard of the Tuscarora "to promote unrestricted travel across the international border between the United States and Canada."[3] Indigenous people consider unrestricted travel across the continental United States and across the border between the United States and Canada an inherent right given by the Jay Treaty of 1794 and reconfirmed by the Treaty of Ghent of 1814.[15] The Annual Border Crossing sponsored by the League begins at Niagara Falls.[16]

International Indian Treaty Council

The International Indian Treaty Council, also known as IITC, has an objective to seek, promote and build participation of Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations (UN) and its specialized agencies, as well as other international forums.

❖ To seek international recognition for Treaties and Agreements between Indigenous Peoples and Nation-States.

❖ To support the human rights, self-determination and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples; to oppose colonialism in all its forms, and its effects upon Indigenous Peoples.

❖ To build solidarity and relationships of mutual support among Indigenous Peoples of the world.

❖ To disseminated information about Indigenous Peoples’ human rights issues, struggles, concerns and perspectives.

❖ To establish and maintain one or more organizational offices to carry out IITC’s information dissemination, networking and human rights programs. [17]

Inter-Tribal Environmental Council

The ITEC was set up in 1992 to protect the health of Native Americans, their natural resources and environment. To accomplish this ITEC provides technical support, training and environmental services in a variety of disciplines. Currently, there are over forty ITEC member tribes in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.[18]

The ITEC office has a full-time staff of twenty-two who organize and provide services to the individual ITEC member tribes. In addition, they assist individual tribes with other environmentally related issues and concerns as they arise.

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Graffiti on a wall that says "Free Leonard Peltier".
Political graffiti in Los Angeles demanding "Lets Free Leonard Peltier & All Political Prisoners".

The LPDC is a national and international support group working to free Leonard Peltier (Anishinabe and Dakota/Lakota), a man who is serving two life sentences at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.[19] He was convicted to prison for the deaths of two FBI agents in 1975. There is much controversy surrounding the circumstances of the deaths and of Peltier's conviction. Leonard's status is more well-known overseas, and is considered by some to be a "political prisoner" who was targeted by the FBI during the U.S. government's efforts to curb the activities of AIM and other organizations during the 1970s.[19]

A sign nailed to a tree shows the image of a man and reads "Free Leonard Peltier.
A 'Free Leonard Peltier' sign in Detroit Michigan.(March 2009)

Native American Journalists Association

The Native American Journalists Association, also known as NAJA, is committed to educate its members about culture and tradition. It works to ensure free press, speech and religion, and promote Native culture.[20]

Native American Rights Fund

The Native American Rights Fund, also known as NARF, is a non-profit organization that uses existing laws and treaties to ensure that state governments and the national government live up to their legal obligations. NARF also "provides legal representation and technical assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide."[21] "NARF is governed by a volunteer board of directors composed of thirteen Native Americans from different tribes throughout the country with a variety of expertise in Indian matters. A staff of fifteen attorneys handles about fifty major cases at any given time, with most of the cases taking several years to resolve. Cases are accepted on the basis of their breadth and potential importance in setting precedents and establishing important principles of Indian law".[21]

In September 2001 tribal Leaders met in Washington, D.C., and established the Tribal Supreme Court Project in an effort to "strengthen tribal advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court by developing new litigation strategies and coordinating tribal legal resources."[22] The ultimate goal is to improve the win-loss record of Indian tribes in Supreme Court cases. The Project is staffed by attorneys from Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and consists of a Working Group of over 200 attorneys and academics from around the nation who specialize in Indian law and other areas of law that impact Indian cases, including property law, trust law and Supreme Court practice. In addition, an Advisory Board of Tribal Leaders assists the Project by providing the necessary political and tribal perspective to the legal and academic expertise.

The Tribal Supreme Court does the following:

❖ In conjunction with the National Indian Law Library, monitors Indian law cases in the state and federal appellate courts that have the potential to reach the Supreme Court (NILL Indian Law Bulletins)

❖ Maintains an on-line depository of briefs and opinions in all Indian law cases filed with the U.S. Supreme Court and cases being monitored in the U.S. Court of Appeal and State Supreme Courts (Court Documents)

❖ Prepares an Update Memorandum of Cases which provides an overview of Indian law cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, cases being monitored and the current work being performed by the Project

❖ Offers assistance to tribal leaders and their attorneys to determine whether to file a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in cases where they lost in the court below

❖ Offers assistance to attorneys representing Indian tribes to prepare their Brief in Opposition at the Petition Stage in cases where they won in the court below

❖ Coordinates an Amicus Brief writing network and helps to develop litigation strategies at both the Petition Stage and the Merits Stage to ensure that the briefs receive the maximum attention of the Justices

❖ When appropriate, prepares and submits Amicus Briefs on behalf of Indian tribes and Tribal Organizations

❖ Provides other brief writing assistance, including reviewing and editing of the principal briefs, and the performance of additional legal research

❖ Coordinates and conducts Moot Court and Roundtable opportunities for attorneys who are presenting Oral Arguments before the Court

❖ Conducts conference calls and fosters panel discussions among attorneys nation-wide about pending Indian law cases and, when necessary, forms small working groups to formulate strategy on specific issues [22]

National Congress of American Indians

The NCAI was founded in 1944 at a gathering of over 100 Native Americans in Denver, Colorado (many of the participants were elected leaders of the tribes that were involved in the Indian Reorganization Acts of 1934).[23] The formation of the NCAI was encouraged by John Collier (reformer), who realized that the United States Congress and the people were becoming more focused on World War II and less attention was focused on Native American affairs.[23] The NCAI decided to dedicate themselves to lobbying for or against specific legislation and also to focusing on civil and voting rights.

National Indian Education Association

The National Indian Education Association, also known as NIEA, is a membership based organization "committed to increasing educational opportunities and resources for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students while protecting our cultural and linguistic traditions."[24]

NIEA came into being in 1970. It "is the largest and oldest Indian education organization in the nation and strives to keep Indian Country moving toward educational equity. Governed by a Board of Directors made up of twelve representatives, the NIEA has several committees that work to ensure native educators and students are represented in various educational institutions and forums throughout Indian Country and Washington, D.C."[24]

National Indian Youth Council

The NIYC was founded by Clyde Warrior (Ponca), and Melvin Thom, (Paiute). Their work resulted in an action program and a newspaper called ABC: Americans Before Columbus. What seems particularly interesting about the NIYC is the approaches that they took and still take today towards achieving their goals. For instance, they held "fish-ins" along the rivers in Washington in order to protest the treaty-given fishing rights that were being taken away from them. This was due to a nullified supreme court decision. These incidents are not unlike the number of sit-ins held by young African-Americans during the civil rights movement, in protest of equal rights not being granted to them.[10]

Society of American Indians

This organization was founded by the Yavapi Indian Carlos Montezuma. The SAI was at the forefront in the fight for Indian citizenship, which was eventually granted in 1924. Their efforts resulted in a number of fish-ins along rivers to support aboriginal fishing rights nullified by a state supreme court decision. This is very comparable to the sit-ins that were held during the civil rights movement when young African American students held sit-ins at lunch counters. When thinking of this comparison, it allows you to think of the immense efforts that American Indians have already put forth and are still putting forth to gain their civil rights.[3]

Early activism

The first major recorded action of American Indian activism happened in 1901. A Muskogee creek named Chitto Harjo led a rebellion (also known as the Crazy Snake Uprising) against Allotment in Indian Territory. He and his followers harassed non-natives as well as natives in favor of Allotment. Although this rebellion ended in the arrest of Harjo and his anti-allotment followers (including some Cherokee), the Four Mothers Society for collective political action was formed in 1912. This committee took a more formal approach by sending delegates to congress to argue their cause against Allotment.[25]

Creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity

The OEO was founded in 1964 as a result of Indian support of Point IV program very similar to Wilson's Point IV program in his War on Poverty. OEO created a "symbiotic relationship" with NCAI and Indian Division, making an anti BIA. One goal of the OEO was to help Native Americans gain skills and experience that would enable them to move up the bureaucratic ladder, control the OEO programs, become the managers of the OEO programs, decide where the money made by the tribe will go, what programs to make, and get Native land back.[26]:127 Some OEO programs that benefit Native Americans are the Job Corps, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Operation Headstart, VISTA, Legal Services and the Community Action Programs.[27] The Community Action Programs give tribes "the opportunity to develop and administer their own economic and social programs."[27] The OEO also "channel[ed] federal funding directly to tribal governments".[26] Tribal governments submit plans for local projects to the Office of Economic Opportunity. Once the members of the tribe approved the plan, "the OEO contracted with the tribal government to operate the project", and provided the necessary, budgeted funds.[28]

Red Power movement

A sign that reads United States Penitentiary has graffiti above it saying "Indians Welcome".
A lingering sign of the 1969–71 Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island (2006 Photograph)..

"Red Power" is the term used to describe the activist movement that came to prominence in 1960's [6]:16 It was the Civil Rights movement of the American Indian. One of the key events in the Red Power movement was the Occupation of Alcatraz. The occupation started on November 20, 1969 with 79 Indians disembarking on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, and ended 19 months and 9 days later on June 11, 1971. The group placed demands, which consisted of the deed to Alcatraz and funding to establish a university and a cultural center.[29] These demands were rejected. While the group may have lost the battle, this event gathered such media attention as to give the movement a large forward step in the war.

Throughout the 1960s, the battle to regain fishing rights that had been previously guaranteed in treaties during the mid-nineteenth century but later restricted after WWII for conservation purposes, continued in the northwestern United States.[11]:185 A series of fish-ins occurred, as well as protests in Olympia, Washington. The National Indian Youth Council spearheaded the campaign. Marlon Brando joined the fish-in effort and was arrested along with Episcopal minister John Yaryan on March 2, 1964 during a NIYC fish-in on the Puyallup River.[11]:195 Over the course of the fish-in efforts, over 45 tribes came together to support and help. For this reason, Clyde Warrior, a leader of the NIYC, considered the fish-in protests to be “the beginning of a new era in the history of American Indians” and other members of the NIYC considered the protesting to be “the greatest Indian victory of modern day.”[11]:199–200

In August 1970 and in June 1971, two separate occupations of Mount Rushmore occurred. These were efforts to reclaim the Black Hills and to insist that the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 be honored and recognized by the United States of America.[30]

In November 1972, the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan occurred.[10] This involved the American Indian Movement, the National Indian Brotherhood (a Canadian organization), the Native American Rights Fund, the National Indian Youth Council, the National American Indian Council, the National Council on Indian Work, National Indian Leadership Training, and the American Indian Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. The cross-country caravan eventually converged on Washington D.C. where the organizations demonstrated for six days. Eventually, a group took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many public documents where destroyed during the takeover.[10]

A more violent demonstration began in February 1973, when members of the American Indian Movement and the Oglala Sioux occupied the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 located in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This siege ended after 71 days with the surrender of the AIM group. Two Indians, Frank Clearwater and Buddy Lamont, were killed; one federal marshal was injured.[10]


  1. ^ Robbins, Dorothy M (30 July 1997). "A Short History of Pan-Indianism". Native American Information Service. Retrieved 14 September 2009. 
  2. ^ Waldman, Carl (2009). "Atlas of The North American Indian" (Third ed.), p.262. Checkmark Books., New York, New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Waldman, Carl (2009)."Atlas of The North American Indian" (Third ed.), p.264. Checkmark Books., New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3.
  4. ^ a b Waldman, Carl (2009). "Atlas of The North American Indian" (Third ed.), p.241. Checkmark Books., New York, New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3.
  5. ^ Cowger, Thomas W. (2007). "PAN-INDIAN MOVEMENTS". Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved September 14, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b Johnson, Troy R.; Alvin M. Josephy, Joane Nagel (1999). Red power: the American Indians' fight for freedom. U.S.A.: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-7611-7. 
  7. ^ "Native American Voices: Declaration of Indian Purpose". Digital History. 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2009-09-16. 
  8. ^ "C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989" International Labour Organization, 2006. Retrieved on 2009-10-03.
  9. ^ a b Hoxie, Frederick E (2001). "Talking Back to Civilization", p.24. Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston, MA. ISBN 978-0-312-10385-9
  10. ^ a b c d e f Waldman, Carl (2009) "Atlas of the Native American Indian" (Third ed.), p.265-266. Checkmark Books., New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3.
  11. ^ a b c d Shreve, Bradley Glenn. "Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Intertribal Activism." Diss. U of Mexico, 2007.
  12. ^ Waldman, Carl (2009) "Atlas of The North American Indian" (Third ed.), p.248. Checkmark Books., New York, New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3
  13. ^ Trope, Jack F and Lisa Wyzlic. "AAIA: About Us", 1999–2009. Retrieved on October 11, 2009.
  14. ^ a b c "CRITFC", 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  15. ^ Hill, Beverly. "Indian Defense League of America". Retrieved on September 29, 2009.
  16. ^ Hoxie, Frederick E. (1996). "Encyclopedia of North American Indians", p.220. Houghton Mifflin Company., New York. ISBN 0-395-66921-9.
  17. ^ "International Indian Treaty Council", 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  18. ^ "Inter-tribal Environmental Council". 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b Utter, Jack (2001). American Indians: History to Today's Questions (Second ed.), p.332-333. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. ISBN 0-8061-3313-9.
  20. ^ Native American Journalists Association. "Native American Journalists Association", 2008. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  21. ^ a b "Native American Rights Fund", Retrieved on October 11, 2009.
  22. ^ a b "Tribal Supreme Court Project Home", Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  23. ^ a b Olson, James S.; Raymond Wilson (1984). Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. Provo, Utah: Bringham Young University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-8425-2141-0. 
  24. ^ a b National Indian Education Association. "NIEA Profile", 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  25. ^ McIntosh Kenneth W. "CRAZY SNAKE UPRISING", Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  26. ^ a b Cobb, Daniel M. (2008). "Native Activism in Cold War America", p.127. University Press of Kansas., Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1597-1
  27. ^ a b Cohen, Felix S. "Handbook of Federal Indian Law", p.190.
  28. ^ McNickle, D'Arcy and Iverson, Peter. "Native American tribalism: Indian survivals and renewals" p.119. Oxford University Press., New York, New York. ISBN 0-19-508422-5.
  29. ^ "Alcatraz is Not an Island: The Occupation, 1969–1971" "PBS", 2002. Retrieved on 2009-09-16.
  30. ^ Pacio, Adam G. (2008). "AIM Occupation of Mount Rushmore". Mount Rushmore Revisited. Retrieved 2009-09-16. 

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