National Indian Youth Council

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National Indian Youth Council
National Indian Youth Council Logo.gif
Founded August 10–13, 1961
Gallup, New Mexico
Founders Mel Thom (Walker River Paiute)
Herb Blatchford (Diné)
Shirley Hill Witt (Mohawk)
Clyde Warrior (Ponca)
Joan Noble (Ute)
Bernadine Eschief (Shoshone-Bannock-Pima)
Howard McKinley, Jr. (Navajo)
Edison Real Bird (Crow)
Karen Rickard (Tuscarora)
John R. Winchester (Pottawatomie)
Type 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization
  • New Mexico
Mission To provide and ensure that every Native American person has an equal opportunity to participate, excel and become a viable member and asset to his/her community. By providing access to education, health care, social service, employment, housing, leadership in government and economic development this will insure their dignity and self-respect.

With the belief that we can serve a realistic need, the National Indian Youth Council dedicated its activities and projects to attaining a greater future for our Indian People.

—Mel Thom (Walker River Paiute), the NIYC's first president[1]:59

The National Indian Youth Council or "NIYC" is considered the nation's second oldest American Indian organization [2] and currently has a membership of more than 15,000 nationwide. It was the first independent Native student organization, and one of the first Native organizations to use direct action as a means to pursue their goals. During the 1960s NIYC acted primarily as a civil rights organization and was very active in the movement to preserve tribal fishing rights in the Northwest.[2] In the 1970s NIYC focused on environmental concerns and aided tribes experiencing problems with coal strip mining and uranium mining. Today the NIYC puts forth effort to improve public education available to Indians, job training, education of the general public on Indian issues, Indian religious freedom, and works to increase Indian political participation.[3]

The Preamble to the NIYC's Constitution and Statement of Purpose reads:

Now therefore be it resolved, that the National Indian Youth Council endeavors to carry forward the policy of making their inherent sovereign rights known to all people, opposing termination of federal responsibility at all levels, seeking full participation and consent on jurisdiction matters involving Indians, and staunchly supporting the exercise of those basic rights guaranteed American Indians by the statutes of the United States of America.[4]


The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) was established in 1961 by young American Indians who were either in college or had recently graduated from college.[5] Basically, the NIYC is a result of youth expressing dissenting opinions from tribal leaders. This began during the American Indian Chicago Conference in 1961, where several young American Indians, a handful of who had become acquainted while participating in the Southwest Regional Indian Youth Council (SWRIYC), became disillusioned with the efforts of the tribal leaders.[1]:53-54. After listening to the ideas presented by the conservative faction of the conference, the youth began to express their dissenting opinions. This group, including Clyde Warrior (Ponca) and Mel Thom (Walker River Paiute), temporarily called themselves the Chicago Conference Youth Council.[1]:57. Later in the year, after that summer's Workshop on American Indian Affairs had ended, the group that had joined together as the Chicago Conference Youth Council met in Gallup, New Mexico.[5] It was there that the National Indian Youth Council was established. The NIYC is the second oldest national Indian organization and was influenced and aligned with the Civil Rights Movement.[5]


The goal of NIYC is to protect Indian treaty, hunting, and fishing rights.[5] Mel Thom developed the following creed from which many ideas were drawn and used in the preamble of the NIYC's constitution:

At this time in the history of the American Indian, we, the younger generation, find it expedient to band together on a national scale in meeting the challenges facing our Indian people. In banding together for mutual assistance we recognize that the future of the Indian people will ultimately rest in the hands of the younger people, and that Indian youth need be concerned with the position of the American Indian. We further recognize the inherent strength of the American Indian heritage that will be enhanced by a national Indian organization. The needs of the American Indians to be served are numerous and varied. Besides needs there are contributions already made and more to be made to America by its original inhabitants. We believe in a greater Indian America.[1]:60

Upon the foundation of the NIYC, the group decided that they would take the fight for the Native American People in a new direction. They would use direct action as a means to solve problems. Direct actions included fish-ins and marches.[5] This inspired other organizations to do the same, such as the American Indian Movement.[6]:2


In 1963, NIYC began publishing a monthly newsletter titled ABC: Americans Before Columbus. This was the first publication of the Red Power movement. The newsletter was one of the leading mechanisms voicing radical Indian thought. By 1962, over 180 tribal councils had subscribed.[6]

Efforts During The Red Power Era[edit]

A group of NIYC demonstrators holding signs in front of the BIA office.
National Indian Youth Council demonstrations, Bureau of Indian Affairs office, Denver 1970


As soon as settlers began arriving to the Columbia River area, they began to challenge Indian tribes over fishing. The 1800s saw fishing rights guaranteed to the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually, and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest by way of the Treaty of Point Elliot and the Treaty of Medicine Creek [7]:184 But, after WWII, residents of the area began to realize that pollution, logging, and the increasing population were negatively affecting the salmon runs.[7]:185 Conservation measures soon began, but the tribes wished to maintain their fishing habits, which had not changed for generations. This angered sports fishermen, who wanted the tribes to follow Washington State's fishing and game laws.[7]:186 The Washington State Sportsman's Council sided with the white fishers and supported the conservation effort.

The first arrest occurred in 1954. Robert Satiacum was arrested for gillnetting without a license and out of season. The case continued up to Washington's Supreme Court. It was eventually dropped, but had a lasting effect nonetheless. It had implied that the State had the jurisdiction to regulate Indian fishing.[7]:188 The conflict continued for the next few years and then began to gather more publicity in 1964. In February, tribal leaders met with members of the NCAI and the NIYC. It was decided that they would take action to protect treaty rights. How to protest became a topic of contention because many feared their cause would become linked with the civil rights movement that was occurring at the same time. Mel Thom voiced this opinion when he said "this is an Indian treaty, not a civil rights issue"[7]:194. The NIYC and all involved felt that if their problem were equated with racial issues it would affect the outcome. The American Indian problem was a century's old battle with the Federal government and they wanted it to remain within those terms.[7]:194

Many of the tribes in Washington gave their support to the cause, as did some Seminoles from Florida, Winnebagos from Nebraska, Blackfeet from Montana, Shoshone from Wyoming and Sioux from the Dakotas.[7]:193 Marlon Brando joined the fish-in effort and was arrested on March 2, 1964 during a NIYC fish-in on the Puyallup River. Episcopal minister John Yaryan from San Francisco was also arrested.[7]:195 These demonstrations were called "fish-ins" mostly for publicity purposes; the rest of the world would better understand the protests after making the connection to the sit-ins carried out by young blacks in the South.

The next day, March 3, a NIYC-planned protest occurred in Olympia. Anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 people gathered, making it the largest intertribal protest to date. Traditional dances were performed on the steps of the state capitol building, organizers gave speeches, and in front of the governor's mansion one group held a war dance. Clyde Warrior declared that the fish-in protesting was establishing "the beginning of a new era in the history of American Indians" [7]:199. In the end, the fish-ins of March 1964 did not bring about immediate change, but they were responsible for the gathering of more than 45 tribes; many of NIYC's members considered the fish-ins to be "the greatest Indian victory of modern day" [7]:200

The fish-ins continued well into the late 1960s. Finally, in 1975, the United States Supreme Court closed United States v. Washington to further review. The decision mandated that the treaty Indians had the right to catch 50% of Washington's harvestable fish.[7]:211

Poor People's Campaign[edit]

The NIYC was one of the organizations involved in the Poor People's Campaign during the late 1960s in Washington D.C.[3] The Poor People's Campaign had its beginnings in 1967, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began to plan a mass demonstration of poor people to converge on the nation's capital.[1]:149. Members from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the NIYC, and other Native organizations met with King in March 1968. The NCAI and NIYC disagreed on this aspect of the anti-poverty campaign, and the NCAI eventually decided not to participate in the Poor People's Campaign.[1]:154 The NCAI wished to pursue their battles in the courts and with Congress, unlike the NIYC, which was an organization that was perfectly amenable to demonstration.

The poor from all over the United States descended on Washington D.C in early May. Over 2,000 demonstrators were transported by car, bus, and train to Resurrection City, a shantytown in West Potomac Park. Over 200 Native people were involved.[1]:173

The following is an excerpt from a statement authored by members of the Workshop on American Indian Affairs and the NIYC, and delivered by Mel Thom on May 1, 1968 during a meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk:[1]:167

We have joined the Poor People's Campaign because most of our families, tribes, and communities number among those suffering most in this country. We are not begging. We are demanding what is rightfully ours. This is no more than the right to have a decent life in our own communities. We need guaranteed jobs, guaranteed income, housing, schools, economic development, but most important- we want them on our own terms.

Our chief spokesman in the federal government, the Department of Interior, has failed us. In fact it began failing us from its very beginning. The Interior Department began failing us because it was built upon and operates under a racist, immoral, paternalistic and colonialistic system. There is no way to improve upon racism, immortality and colonialism; it can only be done away with. The system and power structure serving Indian peoples is a sickness which has grown to epidemic proportions. The Indian system is sick. Paternalism is the virus and the secretary of the Interior is the carrier.

Trail of Broken Treaties[edit]

NIYC was one of several organizations that participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan, which was organized by the American Indian Movement(AIM)[5]. The Trail of Broken Treaties occurred November 3 through November 9 in 1972. It started as a caravan of cars from various reservations in the U.S. intent on concluding in Washington D.C. and ended with a week long take over and occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The goal of the Trail of Broken Treaties was to gain positive media attention to gain support for a policy of self-determination. This event was one of the first times that American Indians united together.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cobb, Daniel M.(2008). Native Activism In Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty, University Press of Kansas, Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1597-1.
  2. ^ a b National Indian Youth Council, Inc., "NIYC History", Retrieved on 2009-09-30.
  3. ^ a b Utter, Jack (2001). American Indians: History to Today's Questions (Second ed.), p.335. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. ISBN 0-8061-3313-9.
  4. ^ Bruyneel, Kevin. (2007). The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-Indigenous relations p.129. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 978-0-8166-4988-4.
  5. ^ a b c d Wilkins, D. E.; Stark, H. K. (2011). American Indian politics and the American political system. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 
  6. ^ Fluharty, Sterling. "National Indian Youth Council", "New Mexico Office of the State Historian", 2009. Retrieved on 2009-10-04.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Shreve, Bradley Glenn. "Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Intertribal Activism." Diss. U of Mexico, 2007.
  8. ^ Deloria, V. (1985). Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence. Austin, TX: the University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70754-2. 


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