The Founding Meeting of NCAI

We, the members of the Indian Tribes of the United States of America in convention assembled on the 16th day of November, 1944, at Denver, Colorado; in order to secure the rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws of the United States, the several states thereof, and the territory of Alaska; to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian race; to preserve cultural values; to seek an equitable adjustment to tribal affairs; to secure and to preserve rights under Indian treaties with the United States; and to otherwise promote the common welfare of the American Indians – do establish this organization and adopt the following Constitution and By-Laws.”
- Original Preamble to NCAI Constitution, Adopted Nov. 16, 1944


Denver, Colorado - 1944

The following draws on content from the book, The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years by Thomas W. Cowger, which cited original NCAI archive material as reference materials.

On November 15, 1944, nearly 80 delegates from 50 tribes and associations in 27 states came together at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Denver, Colorado, and founded the National Congress of American Indians.

From the treaty era of the late 1800s to the self-determination era starting in the early 1960s, tribal sovereignty came under a new form of assault by the federal government. All the while, Native culture was under attack by the assimilation policies of the government and social practices of Western society.

In the early 1940s, members of Congress and factions in the federal government began to amass an effort in what historians point to as the beginning of an era—the termination era. The termination era, – the attempt to completely terminate federally recognized tribes, became the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty in the 20th century.

“Although many representatives came from urban areas, the convention drew better-than-expected reservation-based support. On the whole, the convention attendees represented an equal blend of young and old, full-bloods and mixed-bloods, and highly educated and less formally educated Indians.” (Cowger, p.40).

“Among the founding members was an impressive array of Indian leadership—anthropologists, lawyers, business people, elected state and federal officials, tribal leaders, and even a former professional baseball player George Eastman (Santee Sioux).” Cowger, p. 40).

“Nearly half of the founding members had served on IRA-chartered tribal councils. Several had graduated from Carlisle Indian School, Haskell Institute, and from four-year colleges. Roughly 80 percent of the charter members had some ties to the BIA. In contrast to the youthful Bureau planners of the NCAI, the charter delegates represented an equal number of young and older Indians. The delegates fell into two nearly equal age groups: those twenty-eight to forty-five and those forty-six to sixty-five.”(Cowger, p. 41).

The Denver Convention then created ten permanent committees and elected an executive council made up of four officers and eight councilmen.

First NCAI Executive Council as Elected in 1944

  • President – Judge Napoleon B. Johnson, Cherokee
  • Vice-President – Edward L. Rogers, Minnesota Chippewa
  • Treasurer – George G LaMotte, Wisconsin Chippewa
  • Secretary - Dan Madrano, Caddo

Council Members

  • Stephen DeMers, Flathead Reservation, Montana
  • Henry Throssell, Papago Reservation (modern-day Tohono O'odham)
  • William Firethunder, Pineridge Reservation
  • Luke Gilbert, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
  • Howard Gorman, Navajo
  • (William) D’Arcy McNickle, Flathead Indian Reservation
  • Archie Phinney, Nez Perce
  • Arthur C. Parker, Seneca

The First Resolutions

Eighteen resolutions were passed on November 18, 1944, becoming the platform for NCAI for the year to follow. “The resolutions addressed three broad themes: sovereignty, civil rights, and political recognition for all Indians. From these resolutions emerged two immediate concerns: the establishment of a claims commission for tribes to litigate old land claims against the government and the securing of voting rights for Indians in New Mexico and Arizona.”

By the following year, membership in NCAI had risen to more than 300, claiming members from nearly every tribe in the United States at the time.