Mission & History

National Congress of American Indians charter Members at the Constitutional Convention Cosmopolitan Hotel, Denver, Colorado, November 15-18, 1944 - Download a full list of members in the photo. 

NCAI was established in 1944 in response to the termination and assimilation policies the US government forced upon tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereign nations. To this day, protecting these inherent and legal rights remains the primary focus of NCAI.

NCAI Mission

  • Protect and enhance treaty and sovereign rights.
  • Secure our traditional laws, cultures, and ways of life for our descendants.
  • Promote a common understanding of the rightful place of tribes in the family of American governments.
  • Improve the quality of life for Native communities and peoples.

NCAI History

The Founding Meeting of NCAI:
The 1944 Constitutional Convention – Denver, 1944

In Denver, Colorado, in 1944, close to 80 delegates from 50 tribes and associations in 27 states came together to establish the National Congress of American Indians at the Constitutional Convention. Founded in response to the emerging threat of termination, the founding members stressed the need for unity and cooperation among tribal governments and people for the security and protection of treaty and sovereign rights. The Founders also committed to the betterment of the quality of life of Native people. 

Read about the First Constitutional Convention of NCAI.

“[NCAI] is one of the most important intertribal political organizations of the modern era. It has played a crucial role in stimulating Native political awareness and activism, provided a forum for debates on vital issues affecting reservations and tribes, overseeing litigation efforts, and organizing lobbying activities in Washington,” 

– from The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years by Thomas W. Cowger

Seventy Years of NCAI: From Imminent Threat to Self-Determination

From 1944 to the modern era of government relations between tribal governments and US governments, NCAI has been a leading force and voice in protecting tribal sovereignty.

Read a brief history of NCAI’s historic and modern role in protecting tribal sovereignty.

NCAI Founding Principles:

  • To secure and preserve American Indian and Alaska Native sovereign rights under treaties and agreements with the United States, as well as under federal statutes, case law, and administration decisions and rulings.
  • To protect American Indian and Alaska Native traditional,  cultural, and religious rights.
  • To seek appropriate, equitable, and beneficial services and programs for American Indian and Alaska Native governments and people.
  • To promote the common welfare and enhance the quality of life of American Indian and Alaska Native people.
  • To educate the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people, and rights.