The BIAs mission is to fulfil its responsibilities and promote self-determination on behalf of tribal governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives. According to the US Department of the Interior, "Responsibility is the administration and management of 55.7 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. Developing forestlands, leasing assets on these lands, directing agricultural programs, protecting water and land rights, developing and maintaining infrastructure, providing for health and human services, and economic development are all part of this responsibility taken in cooperation with the American Indians and Alaska Natives'' (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2003).
According to the US Department of the Interior, the main objectives of the BIA are to encourage and assist Indian and Alaska Native people in managing their own affairs under the trust relationship to the federal government; to facilitate, with a maximum involvement of Indian and Alaska Native people, the development of their human and natural resources; to mobilize all public and private aid for the advancement of Indian and Alaska Native people for use by them; and to promote self-determination by using the skills and capabilities of Indian and Alaska Native people in the direction and management of programs for their benefit. In carrying out these objectives, the BIA works with Indian and Alaska Native people, as well as tribal governments, Native American organizations, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and other interested groups in the development and implementation of effective programs for their advancement. Forty-five commissioners have succeeded at the head of the BIA, six of whom were American Indian: Ely S. Parker, Seneca (1869-1871); Robert L. Bennett, Oneida (1966-1969); Louis R. Bruce, Mohawk-Oglala Sioux (1969-1973); Morris Thompson, Athapaskan (1973-1976); Benjamin Reifel, Sioux (1976-1977); and William E. Hallett, Red Lake Chippewa (1979-1981).
In 1977, the BIA created the position of assistant secretary for Indian affairs. This office "is responsible for identifying and acting on issues affecting Indian policy and programs, establishing policy on Indian affairs, maintaining liaison and coordination between the Department and other Federal agencies that provide services or funding to Indians, and monitoring and evaluating ongoing activities related to Indian affairs" (Department of the Interior, US government manual, 243). Only American Indians have occupied this position; they include Forrest J. Gerard, Blackfeet (1977-1980); Thomas W. Frederick, Mandan-Hidatsa
(1981); Kenneth L. Smith, Wasco (1981-1984); Ross O. Swimmer, Cherokee (1985-1989); Eddie F. Brown, Tohono O'odham (1989-1993); Ada E. Deer, Menominee (1993-1997); and Kevin Gover, Pawnee (1997-2001) (US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2003).
See also Self-Determination
Jackson, Curtis E. & Marcia J. Galli, A History of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its Activities Among Indians, San Francisco, California: R&E Research Associates, 1977 Stuart, Paul, The Indian Office. Growth and Development of an American Institution, 1865-1900, Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1979 Taylor, Theodore W., The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 1984 US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs:
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