History: National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

Archived records at The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian


Biographical Note
The National Congress of America Indians, which describes itself as the oldest and largest American Indian and Alaskan Native organization in the United States, was founded on November 16, 1944, in Denver, CO. NCAI was intended to serve as a link between individual tribal councils and the United States government, by defining and helping to crystallize Indian thought on the administration of Indian affairs. The Congress also aimed to educate the general public about Indians, preserve Indian cultural values, protect treaty rights with the United States, and promote Indian welfare.
At the first convention, delegates representing fifty tribes ratified the constitution and by-laws, drafted resolutions determining the direction of NCAI policy, and elected the organizations’ first officers, with Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Napoleon B. Johnson (Cherokee) as president. The officers, as well as eight elected council members, formed the Executive Council. The Council chose the Executive Director; Ruth Muskrat Bronson (Cherokee) was the organization’s first director, from 1944-1948. “Persons of Indian blood” could join the organization either as individuals or as groups. In 1955, however, the constitution was revised to restrict group membership to recognized tribes, committees, or bands, and to make the Executive Council chosen by tribal  representatives. These changes gave control of the organization to governing bodies of organized tribes, rather than individuals. A further amendment that year created a five-member Executive Committee, headed by the president, which had all the powers of
the Executive Council between council meetings.
Conventions have been held annually in the fall since the formation of the NCAI in 1944. Since 1977, mid-year conferences have been held in May or June of each year, to allow more frequent and thorough discussion of issues. The resolutions passed at these conventions are the basis for all policy of the Executive Committee and Executive Director between meetings. The conventions are also used for informational sessions and meetings of standing and special committees of NCAI. One or two-day workshops may also be held on special topics or Congressional issues of particular concern.
NCAI created a tax-exempt arm in 1949 to accept charitable contributions and apply for grants, the NCAI Fund, which soon changed its name to ARROW, Inc. By 1957, however, ARROW had split off to become an independent organization, and NCAI started a new arm, again called the NCAI Fund. In the coming decades, the NCAI Fund would obtain grants from sources including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Veteran Affairs, Indian Health Service, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Ford Foundation,
humanities councils and others, which they used for conferences, workshops, publications, and other projects.
In its early years, NCAI fought for the recognition of land claims of Alaska natives, the enfranchisement of Arizona and New Mexico Indians, the equitable settlement of tribal land claims, and the right of Indians to select their own attorneys. The NCAI lobbied vigorously for an Indian Claims Commission Bill, which became law in August 1946. NCAI’s lobbying efforts on behalf of this act set the pattern for the organization’s future role in legislative matters: keeping member tribes abreast of proposed legislation and
ascertaining their views, and maintaining a presence in Congress through lobbying and testimony. Beginning in 1954, the threat of termination pushed NCAI into a period of increased activity. Although some tribes were ready to terminate their relationship with the federal government, much of Indian Country felt threatened by the government’s new stated policy. NCAI therefore organized an Emergency Conference of American Indians for February 1954 to protest this new termination policy. An agreement was forged at the conference between the NCAI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work together toward slowly liquidating the BIA. The termination period of the 1950s and 1960s, while challenging, saw NCAI increase in confidence and political acumen.
During the 1960s, a number of other activist Indian groups sprang up and began to dilute the singular influence which NCAI had commanded. Newer, more militant groups often considered themselves at odds with NCAI, which was increasingly perceived as conservative. As the number of Indian advocacy groups grew in the 1960s and 1970s, however, NCAI actively partnered with other organizations, particularly the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association (NTCA) and Native American Rights Fund (NARF), on a variety of projects.
Piqua Sawnee Tribe
“Piqua Shawnee”

75th Annual NCAI Convention & Marketplace

NCAI Conference 2018

Date: Oct 21, 2018 – Oct 26, 2018

Where: Denver, CO

View Agenda >>

About the Event:

We are excited to celebrate our 75th Anniversary in Denver, Colorado where our first convening was held in 1944! We hope you can join us. We look forward to welcoming you!

Registration Now Open! Register now online, or click here to download and print the registration form and submit with payment.

75th Anniversary Book “Honoring The Past”

Fill out our NCAI Alumni Contact Form to help us connect with you!

Call for photos, stories, and quotes for the 75th Anniversary!

We have a number of exciting activities planned including our 75th Anniversary book Honoring the Past!  Submit your photos, stories, and quotes to NCAI to be included in our materials for the year. Get started by filling out the form here.

Questions? Email ncai@ncai.org for more information.


The Marketplace offers a wonderful opportunity to shop with top Indian Arts & Crafts vendors, talk with representatives from Federal programs and Tribal Enterprises, and receive career, education, and health information from the wide variety of vendors. The Marketplace is open to the general public.




Piqua Shawnee

“Piqua Shawnee”

Piqua Shawnee Tribe

NCAI Honors Senator John McCain

NCAI Press Release August 25, 2018

NCAI Honors Senator John McCain

WASHINGTON, D.C. | The National Congress of American Indians gives honor to the life of Senator John McCain and celebrates the time we had with him as a tireless champion for Indian Country and tribal sovereignty. The Senator dedicated many years to Indian Country. Serving as longtime member and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he met frequently with tribal leaders on the Hill, in their community, and at our gatherings. In his last speech at NCAI Senator McCain said, “We must listen more to you, and get out of the way of tribal authority.” As we close out the day, we extend our sincere condolences with the family of Senator John McCain.

NCAI Website

About The National Congress of American Indians: Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org

NCAI to Host Tribal Unity Impact Days September 12-13, 2018

NCAI Unity Day

NCAI and its co-sponsors will be hosting Tribal Unity Impact Days on September 12-13, 2018. This event will allow tribal leaders to engage with key members of Congress. On the morning of September 12, senators and representatives will brief tribal leaders on the current and critical legislative issues affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. The rest of the two days will be for tribal advocacy meetings with congressional members and their staff.

Topics for this year’s event will include opioids legislation, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Farm Bill, and more.

For more information and to register, click here.

Piqua Shawnee, Piqua Shawnee Tribe, NCAI, Congress

NCAI Urges Senate to Reauthorize CHIP and SDPI

NCAI Urges Senate Leadership to Reauthorize CHIP and SDPI

On December 11th, 2017, NCAI sent the attached letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urging them to promptly reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI).

Both programs were reauthorized until September 30th, 2017 by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA, Public Law 114-10). While CHIP is currently expired, SDPI was extended until December 31st, 2017 through the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act. CHIP and SDPI have had positive impacts in Indian Country and failure to reauthorize these programs jeopardizes the great strides that have been made in ensuring American Indian and Alaska Native children are insured and decreasing the rate of diabetes and diabetes-related complications in Indian Country.

NCAI Contact Info: Josh Pitre, Senior Policy Analyst, jpitre@ncai.org

Read the CHIP Letter>

Read the SDPI Letter:



Piqua Shawnee


NCAI Tax Reform Update

NCAI Tax Reform Update

December 8, 2017

Tax Reform Update

On December 2, the Senate passed its tax reform bill, which means the House and Senate must now resolve the differences between their bills. The Senate bill does not include any tribal provisions while the House bill has one tribal provision that would treat the loan repayment benefits offered by the Indian Health Service the same as loan repayment benefits offered by other public sector health services providers for purposes of income taxes.

Last week, both the House and Senate voted to go to conference and named their conferees. Once the conferees negotiate the final package, each chamber will hold a vote. We expect the House vote to occur early next week, and the Senate vote to occur after the House vote and before the end of the week.

On December 6, NCAI and NAFOA sent a joint letter to the conferees expressing the need to include tribes. Additionally, because changes made during conference must be related to the bills being conferenced, NCAI prepared a memorandum analyzing how tribal tax priorities are related to provisions currently being considered in the House and Senate bills.

Tribes, NCAI, and other organizations continue to urge Congress to include Indian Country in the final tax reform package.

A chart of House and Senate conferees is available: here

The NCAI-NAFOA letter is available: here

The NCAI memorandum is available: here
NCAI Contact Info: Jacob Schellinger, Staff Attorney & Legislative Counsel, jschellinger@ncai.org



Piqua Shawnee


Preserve & Protect our History and Culture – STOP Act 2017

Piqua Shawnee, along with the National Congress of American Indians, asks you to show your support for the 

Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act of 2017

On November 8 at 2:30 (EDT), the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a legislative hearing to receive testimony on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act of 2017 (S. 1400). This legislation has broad support from Indian Country and NCAI is asking Tribes to submit their support for this legislation and become part of the hearing record.


The STOP Act would strengthen existing federal statutes protecting Native American cultural heritage with an emphasis on facilitating the return of protected items exported and trafficked abroad. Specifically, the STOP Act increases penalties for violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and provides an explicit prohibition on exporting items obtained in violation of NAGPRA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), or the Antiquities Act. The legislation does not extend the reach of these three laws to tribal cultural heritage that is not already protected, and thus it does not criminalize any currently legal domestic activity. Instead, it increases the deterrent effect of current law by imposing heightened penalties and provides that traffickers may not export their contraband. Additionally, the STOP Act creates a structure for federal facilitation of the voluntary return of tribal cultural heritage and engages tribes through a working group to provide input on implementation.

NCAI has two resolutions which align with the intent of the STOP Act and call upon the United States government to address international repatriation and take affirmative actions to stop the theft and illegal sale of tribal cultural items both domestically and abroad (SAC-12-008 and SD-15-075). You can find NCAI’s letter of support here.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is holding a legislative hearing on the STOP Act on Wednesday, November 8, 2017. There is strong bi-partisan support in Congress for the STOP Act but opposition from some antiquities dealers and collectors, who are mobilizing on the Hill, threatens the bill’s progress. This hearing is a critical opportunity for Indian Country to provide their positions on the record about the importance of protecting tribal cultural heritage.

We are asking tribes and tribal organizations to support the STOP Act before this important hearing. You can show support by:

  1. Sending a letter to Committee members expressing support for the bill, with your senators copied. You can find a template letter of support here. Testimony can be sent here. To ensure NCAI can track tribal support, please CC mgivens@ncai.org when you submit); and
  2. Calling or meeting with Committee staff and your senator, especially if he or she is a member of the Committee, expressing your support for the bill.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Members 

John Hoeven, Chairman (ND) Tom Udall, Vice Chairman (NM)
(202) 224-2551 (202) 224-6621
John McCain (AZ) Lisa Murkowski (AK)
(202) 224-2235 (202) 224-6665
James Lankford (OK) Steve Daines (MT)
(202) 224-5754 (202) 224-2651
Michael Crapo (ID) Jerry Moran (KS)
(202) 224-6142 (202) 224-6521
John Barrasso (WY) Jon Tester (MT)
(202) 224-6441 (202) 224-2644
Al Franken (MN) Brian Schatz (HI)
(202) 224-5641 (202) 224-3934
Heidi Heitkamp (ND) Catherine Cortez Masto (NV)
(202) 224-2043 (202) 224-3542

NCAI Contact Info: Denise Desiderio, Policy Director, ddesiderio@ncai.org


Letter From NCAI to Chairman:


STOP Act of 2017