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Bureau of Indian Affairs: Collection Information

This guide provides an overview of historic documents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior and discusses terminology and language found in the documents.

History of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Formally established in 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has roots and precedence originating in the founding of the United States. The earliest form of what would evolve into the BIA is often credited as the Committee on Indian Affairs, which was created by the Continental Congress in 1775. In March of 1824, the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, administratively established the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a sub-department within the War Department, making it one of the oldest bureaus in the U.S. Federal Government. In 1832, Congress created the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and gave the BIA statutory authority over the "...direction and management of all Indian affairs, and of all matters arising out of Indian relations..." (4 Stat. 564, chap. 174). In 1849, upon the creation of the Department of the Interior, the BIA was transferred from the War Department.

In the years between 1849 and 1947, what is now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs was known under various names, including the Indian Office, the Indian Bureau, the Indian Department, and the Indian Service. The Department of the Interior formally adopted the name "Bureau of Indian Affairs" in 1947. The specific role and function of the BIA has varied with changes to the socio-political status of Indigenous people in the United States, but in the present day serves American Indians and Alaskan Natives. The Bureau is formally divided into four offices, the Office of Indian Services, the Office of Justice Services, the Office of Trust Services, and the Office of Field Operations who all together serve and assist Indigenous peoples, and oversee and manage their tribal lands. Collectively the Bureau serves 574 Federally recognized tribes, although that specific number and list has fluctuated throughout the BIA's history. In the current day, the BIA's role is to partner with tribes to achieve identified goals for self-determination and to maintain responsibilities under the Federal-Tribal trust and governmental relationships. 

For more information, see these resources from the BIA:

Historic Collection Descriptions

"The Office of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, has management of all Indian affairs and of all matters arising out of Indian relations under provisions of the Constitution, treaties with Indian tribes, and statutes enacted by Congress. It is charged with the duty of protecting the interests and promoting the welfare of those Indians in the continental United States and the natives of Alaska who are under Federal guardianship." (Government Manual 1945, 1st Edition)

"The principal objectives of the Bureau are to encourage and assist Indian and Alaska Native people to manage their own affairs under the trust relationship to the Federal Government; to facilitate, with maximum involvement of Indian and Alaska Native people, full development of their human and natural resource potential; to mobilize all public and private aids to the advancement of Indian and Alaska Native people for use by them; and to utilize the skill and capabilities of Indian and Alaska Native people in the direction and management of programs for their benefit." (U.S. Government Manual, 1991)

USU’s role in collecting Documents

As a land-grant university, Utah State University acknowledges the history of the area it resides on and the role it has in preserving information to make it accessible to a greater populace. Utah State University is also designated as a Regional Depository Library for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) which requires the institution (library) to receive and retain, in perpetuity, at least one copy of all publications by the Government Publishing Office (GPO) [formerly the Government Printing Office] that were made accessible through the FDLP. The goal of the FDLP and, by extension, the Government Information (Gov Info) collection at USU is to make government publications accessible to the public. As stewards of historic documentation, there is a responsibility for Gov Info to not only preserve the materials and provide access, but to also cultivate understanding about the documents and why they were produced. As historic and current publications of GPO under the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs documents at USU were published from the late 19th century to present and collected contemporaneously. The documents are currently accessible in the circulating stacks of the Government Information collection and are available to be checked out. A limited number of documents are also available online and through the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room.

Land Acknowledgement

"As a land-grant institution, Utah State University campuses and centers reside and operate on the territories of the eight tribes of Utah, who have been living, working, and residing on this land from time immemorial. These tribes are the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Indians, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Northwestern Band of Shoshone, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, San Juan Southern Paiute, Skull Valley Band of Goshute, and White Mesa Band of the Ute Mountain Ute. We acknowledge these lands carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity. We recognize Elders past and present as peoples who have cared for, and continue to care for, the land. In offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous self-governance history, experiences, and resiliency of the Native people who are still here today."

USU Land Acknowledgement

The Utah State University campuses statewide have individual land acknowledgement statements that address the physical locations that each campus sits upon, providing additional scope of USU's interaction with lands traditionally stewarded by Indigenous peoples.


This guide is not an extensive list of documents produced by the Federal Government pertaining to Indigenous people of North American or research related to the topic. For additional information about Native American Studies, see the Native American Studies guide.

While an official term used by the Federal Government, there is controversy over the use of the word "Indian". For the purposes of this LibGuide, the term "Indigenous peoples" or "Indigenous Nations" will be used to denote the groups represented by the BIA. However, when referring to a specific Nation, the guide will default to their preferred term, if possible, while also including formal Federal terminology. In addition to the term "Indian", there is also increasing scrutiny around referring to Indigenous Nations as "tribes". Tribes that are officially recognized by the Federal Government are eligible for services and funding from the BIA. The Bureau publishes updates to the list, including name changes, via the Federal Register. For more information about the process for federal acknowledgement, see the Office of Federal Acknowledgement

Document Types

While the scope of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is broad and constantly changing to best adapt to the needs of the department, the scope of USU's collection is much smaller. At around 800 documents, the physical print collection located in Government Information is cataloged and publicly accessible.

  • Reports
    • Annual
      • "Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior"
    • Fiscal/Economic
    • Education/Academic Compliance
    • Agricultural
    • Scientific
    • Population and Labor Force
    • Conference
  • Tribal Constitutions and By-Laws
    • Amendments to Constitutions and By-Laws
  • Tribal Corporate Charters
  • Information Documents
    • Guide/How-To
    • Healthcare and Welfare
    • Outline/textbook of Historic Events
    • Policy Analysis
  • Promotional Materials
    • Career Opportunities
    • Educational Opportunities
  • Calendars
  • General Documents
  • Maps

Government Information Librarian

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Jen Kirk
Merril-Cazier Library, Lower Level, Room 012
(435) 797-8033

Guide Author

Nicole Hurst has undergraduate degrees in English, with an emphasis in Technical Communications and Rhetoric, and Economics from Utah State University. During her time at USU, she was a student staff member of the Government Information Collection, part of Special Collections & Archives at the Merrill-Cazier Library. 

Vanessa Garcia Vazquez has undergraduate degrees in English, with an emphasis in Technical Communications and Rhetoric, and Criminal Justice from Utah State University. During her time at USU, she was a student staff member of the Government Information Collection, part of Special Collections & Archives at the Merrill-Cazier Library. 

About this Guide

This guide is a second in a series aiming to provide additional information and context about materials in USU's Government Information Collection. The focus of this guide is to highlight the representation of Indigenous peoples of North American through official U.S. Federal Government publications and to facilitate greater understanding of the context in which these documents were created.

FDLP Designation

“This library is a congressionally designated depository for U.S. Government documents. Public access to the government documents collection is guaranteed by public law. (Title 44 United States Code)”

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