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Indian Rights Association


INDIAN RIGHTS ASSOCIATION. In December 1882 Herbert Welsh, an artist and social reformer, and Henry Pancoast, a lawyer, founded the Indian Rights Association (IRA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The IRA, whose founding members were prominent businessmen and philanthropists, believed that American Indians' best hope for survival lay in a program of assimilation. This program involved education, conversion to Christianity, adoption of Anglo-Saxon legal institutions, private landholding, and the reduction of government rations.

The indefatigable efforts of Welsh and Charles Painter, the IRA's investigator and Washington lobbyist, made the IRA the most influential American Indian re-form group of its time. The group monitored the implementation of legislation affecting American Indians, advocating legislation such as the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 and drafting legislation such as the Dawes Sioux Bill of 1884. Painter investigated complaints of abuse; Welsh used his connection with the editors of influential periodicals such as Harper's Weekly and the New York Times, as well as the IRA's own publications, to publicize Painter's findings.

After the turn of the century the IRA's activity diminished; Charles Painter had died in 1895 and Herbert Welsh was preoccupied with other reform activities. However, two former IRA officials, Francis Leupp and Charles Rhoads, became commissioners of Indian Affairs and pursued the IRA's policy of assimilation while in office.

The advent of John Collier as commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933 ended the IRA's dominance over American Indian reform. The group's agenda has been modified during the twentieth century to include advocacy of global human rights. The IRA has continued its support of American Indian land rights, championing the Senecas in the Kinzua Dam controversy of the 1950s and 1960s, and helping the Pequot Indians to recover land in 1976. In the early twenty-first century its membership included prominent American Indians, and it supported American Indian education with financial assistance and public education.


Erickson, Jackson T., ed. Indian Rights Association Papers: A Guide to the Microfilm Edition, 1864–1973. Glenrock, N.J.: Micro-filming Corporation of America, 1975.

Hagan, William T. The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985.


See alsoBureau of Indian Affairs .

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