Association on American Indian Affairs

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ASSOCIATION ON AMERICAN INDIAN AFFAIRS, a significant player in the history of Native American advocacy in the twentieth century. From its foundation by non-Indians in New York City in 1922 to its move to South Dakota in 1995 under a wholly Indian administration, the AAIA came to consider itself unique in advocating the Indians' own vision of their rights and welfare.

The AAIA was created in direct response to federal legislation (the infamous Bursum Bill) designed to enable non-Indians to lay claim to Pueblo land in New Mexico. This legislation occasioned the ire of non-Indian friends of the Pueblos and inspired the creation of the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs. By joining forces, the EAIA, the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs (NAIA), and the American Indian Defense Association, led by John Collier, were instrumental in defeating the Bursum Bill. Following their victory, these groups saw that the needs of Indian people reached far beyond one piece of legislation. In 1933 Oliver La Farge, an anthropologist and Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, became the EAIA's president; in 1939 he merged his group, the faltering NAIA, and the American Indian Defense Association into what became the American Association on Indian Affairs, with headquarters in New York.

While remaining focused on the native peoples of the Southwest, the association's concerns reached throughout the country. La Farge and the association supported the work of commissioner John Collier and opposed the federal government's attempt to terminate its involvement in the lives of Native Americans.

As the battle over termination subsided, the association turned to broader Native American concerns. In 1955 the group elected its first Native American board member, Edward Dozier, a Santa Clara Pueblo anthropologist. The organization proposed programs that would develop the social and economic potential of Native American communities without destroying indigenous cultures. In 1973 the association elected a Native American president, Alfonso Ortiz, a San Juan Pueblo professor of anthropology at Princeton. Ortiz brought the board into a balance of Indians and Anglo advocates and focused its efforts on tribal self-determination through health, education, and economic development programs. He also paid special attention to land, water, and religious rights. When Ortiz left office in 1988 the association was at the zenith of its accomplishments. In the years following his departure, difficulties raising money led its executive director, Jerry Flute, the onetime chairman of South Dakota's Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux, to reduce the association's activities and move its offices to Sisseton, South Dakota. The Archive of the Association on American Indian Affairs is housed in the Princeton University Library.


See alsoAmerican Indian Defense Association ; Termination Policy .

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Association on American Indian Affairs