Association on American Indian Affairs

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Association on American Indian Affairs
Legal status501(c)(3)
Headquarters966 Hungerford Drive
Suite 30A
Rockville, MD 20850
Executive Director
Kimberly A. Dutcher

The Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) is a non-profit organization promoting the welfare of American Indians and Alaska Natives. AAIA is among the oldest Native American Indian advocacy groups in the United States, and has helped create the Indian Child Welfare Act, helped preserve Native American lands, and continues to improve the quality of life for Native Americans in the United States.[1]


The mission of AAIA is to promote the welfare of American Indians and Alaska Natives by supporting efforts to sustain and perpetuate their cultures and languages; to protect their sovereignty, constitution, law and human rights and natural resources; and to improve their health, education, and economic development and community development.[2]


The AAIA has defended the rights and promoted the welfare of Native Americans and, in this process, has shaped the views of their fellow citizens.[3] The Association on American Indian Affairs was started in New York in 1922 as the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs while trying to assist a group of Pueblo people who were fighting efforts to dismantle their pueblos. In 1946, the name was changed to the Association on American Indian Affairs. In 1957, the organization was granted non-profit, 501(c)(3) status for federal tax purposes.[4] The AAIA has waged innumerable battles over the years, touching on the material and spiritual well-being of Indians in all 50 United States states: from the right of Native Americans to control their resources to their right to worship freely; from their right to federal trusteeship to their right to self-determination.[3]

Association timeline

1922 AAIA is formed

1922 AAIA helps Pueblos protect land and water rights

1945 AAIA helps to establish National Congress of American Indians

1948 First college scholarship awarded

1956 AAIA establishes Field Health Nursing program

1968 AAIA begins effort to prevent Otitis Media on Indian reservations

1968 AAIA works to protect Taos Blue Lake

1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act enacted

1978 Indian Child Welfare Act signed into law

1982 AAIA President Ortiz honored by MacArthur Foundation

1984 Tribal Government Tax Status Act becomes law

1986 Landmark Washington Indian Child Welfare tribal-state agreement signed

1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted

1991 The Medicine Wheel Coalition for the Protection of Sacred Sites established

1994 Amendments to American Indian Religious Freedom Act approved

1994 Reaffirmation of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians by the federal government

1996 Bighorn Medicine Wheel Historic Preservation plan adopted

1998 First AAIA-sponsored diabetes conference takes place

2000 AAIA expands grants to summer camps

2006 AAIA creates Dakotah-language Scrabble game and hosts first tournament

2007 Dakotah language K-12 curriculum completed

2008 Tribal amendments to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Act approved in Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act[5]


The Association on American Indian Affairs offers various scholarships and helps nearly 100 students per year pursue graduate and undergraduate studies. It continues to work to ensure appropriate implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which AAIA helped to draft and enact in 1978 to protect Indian children at risk of being placed in foster care or for adoption. AAIA works with tribes and traditional Indian religious petitioners in efforts to protect sacred lands such as the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. It works with tribes to educate Native people about diabetes and health related issues. AAIA played a key role in enacting the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and continues to assist efforts to repatriate human remains, funerary and sacred objects to their tribes. AAIA provides funding for youth summer camps with a cultural, language, substance abuse, and health and wellness focus. AAIA works to preserve Native languages, with a particular focus upon the Dakotah language.[4]


Indian Child Welfare Act[edit]

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that seeks to preserve Native American families and keep American Indian children that must be placed out of the home with American Indian families, whenever possible. The United States Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families" (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.[6]

Advocacy and research by the Association served as a catalyst for the Act. AAIA’s first activities involved the representation of Indian parents whose children had been wrongfully removed from them, beginning with a case involving the Devils Lake Sioux Tribe[7] Later, AAIA conducted a survey of states with large Indian populations in 1969 and again in 1974 which indicated that approximately 25–35 percent of all Indian children are separated from their families and placed in foster homes, adoptive homes, or institutions.[8] AAIA’s Executive Director was the lead witness at the first hearing on Indian child welfare and worked with Congress to draft the legislation.[9] In the 30 years since ICWA was enacted, AAIA has worked to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.[10]


The AAIA offers eight different scholarships to Native Americans, including emergency aid. These scholarships are intended to help a variety of Native Americans with their education, regardless of how long they have been in college, or their age. Except for the Allogan Slagle Memorial Scholarship, eligible students need to have 1/4 Indian Blood and belong to a Federally Recognized Tribe. The Allogan Slagle Memorial Scholarship is unique in that it is offered to students from tribes that are not federally recognized. The Displaced Homemaker Scholarship is offered for men and women who have been unable to complete their education due to family obligations, but are now returning to college.[11]

Summer camps[edit]

The Association on American Indian Affairs supports efforts to provide Native American children with access to summer programs that increase their understanding of their language, culture, and that educate youth about diabetes. AAIA provided funding for 9 different summer camps in 2008 that addressed these issues.[12]

Cultural and community preservation[edit]

Native language preservation[edit]

AAIA Native Language Preservation program produces materials in the Dakotah language for use in preschools, daycares and schools and by families for language learning in the home.[13] Because there are few fluent Dakota speakers left and most are elders over the age of 55, there is a strong need for language preservation. Younger people may have the ability to understand certain phrases or sing Dakota songs but lack the proficiency to keep the language alive for the next generation.[14] AAIA materials include books, MS PowerPoint presentations, DVDs, CDs, and an animation piece that was nominated for Best Animation at the Native Voices Film Festival.[15]

In 2005, with the permission of Hasbro, AAIA created an official Dakota version of Scrabble, including a 207-page dictionary for use with the game. It has sponsored Dakotah-language Scrabble tournaments and made the games available to schools throughout Dakotah communities.

Joining with the Sisseton Wahpeton College, the Association on American Indian Affairs produced the first rap song ever recorded in the Dakotah language in 2005. The rap song, titled “Wicozani Mitawa,” or “My Life,” was recorded at a studio on the Sisseton Wahpeton College campus in Sisseton, South Dakota, on the Lake Traverse Reservation. “The entire concept behind this project is to create a way to have an entire generation of young people actually hear Dakotah being used,” Director of the Native Language Program for AAIA, Tammy Decoteau, said.[15]

The program has also created a K-2 Dakotah language curriculum which all includes all of the books, CDs, games and other materials needed for implementation of the curriculum.

All of AAIA’s language materials are available for translation into other Native languages.

Sacred lands[edit]

AAIA has worked on sacred site protection for most of its history. Its work has included efforts to protect such sites as Devils Tower and the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and Bear Butte in South Dakota.[16] In the case of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, AAIA helped create the Medicine Wheel Coalition, a coalition of Plains Tribes who have a traditional history of using the Medicine Wheel and Medicine Mountain for spiritual purposes. With the assistance of AAIA, the Coalition negotiated and signed in 1996 a landmark Historic Preservation Plan (HPP) with the Forest Service, as well as state and local government agencies, designed to ensure that the entire area around Medicine Wheel and Medicine Mountain is managed in a manner that protects the integrity of the site as a sacred site.[17] It has also worked to protect the San Francisco Peaks which are sacred to more than a dozen Southwest tribes, affect national policy in regard to sacred lands, and provide legal training to tribal advocates and federal officials regarding the laws applicable to sacred lands protection.


The Association on American Indian Affairs worked closely with Congress and other Indian advocates during the creation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Enacted in 1990, NAGPRA provides for the return of human remains and cultural items to indigenous peoples, including funerary objects, sacred objects and cultural patrimony. NAGPRA contains provisions regarding the ownership of cultural resources, the repatriation of these resources to tribes and lineal descendants, and a prohibition on trafficking in these resources.[18] Due in large part to this Act, museums and federal agencies across the United States have inventoried and repatriated thousands of remains and objects held in their collections.[19] AAIA has been very involved in the implementation of NAGPRA, having facilitated repatriation of almost 2,000 human remains to Dakota tribes and sacred objects to a number of tribes, as well as filing amicus briefs in NAGPRA cases, writing legal analyses of NAGPRA for public education purposes and filing comments on proposed regulations. AAIA is committed to assisting in the return of sacred ceremonial material to the appropriate American Indian nation, clan, or family, and to educating the public about the importance of repatriation.[20]


  1. ^ [1]
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  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
  7. ^ United States Senate (1977) Select Committee on Indian Affairs.Indian Child Welfare Act of 1977. Hearing on S.1214 to establish standards for the placement of Indian children in foster or adoptive homes, to prevent the breakup of Indian families, and for other purposes. 95th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  8. ^ ICWA Manual
  9. ^ United States Senate (1974) Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Indian Child Welfare Program. Hearings on problems that American Indian families face in raising their children and how these problems are affected by federal action or inaction. 93rd Congress, 1st Session. Washington DC: Government Printing Office
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