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On This Date – Establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

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John C. Calhoun / painted by T. Hicks ; likeness from a dage. by Brady ; engraved by A.H. Ritchie, c. 1852. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created by then Secretary of War John C. Calhoun on this day, March 11, in 1824.

After Congress abolished government-run trading houses in 1822 (3 Stat. 679, chap 54 (1822)), Calhoun appointed Thomas L. McKenney as the first commissioner of Indian affairs in 1824, to fill the void left by the end of this trade system with the country’s Native American population. Congress did not enact the statutory authority for the Bureau until eight years later (4 Stat. 564, chap. 174 (1832).)

The BIA’s mission today is to “enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.”

If you are interested in learning more about laws related to American Indians, the Law Library of Congress has an extensive online collection of primary source material, including constitutions and charters of various Indian nations.  These items are available through our catalog or on the Law Library’s website, where you’ll find an interactive map of various geographic regions through which these digital files can be accessed.


  1. Thank you, John C. Calhoun. An enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, The Shoshone Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho.

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