Published: November 30, 2021

We’d like to thank Indigenous People’s Caucus Co-Chair Paula Pena for leading the effort to compile this timeline.

November 19, 2021: The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Charles “Chuck” Sams III as National Park Service director, which will make him the first Native American to lead the agency.

May 28, 2021: Evidence of approximately 200 probable unmarked burials was found near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, on the lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, reigniting a national debate about residential schools in Canada and the U.S. 

March 15, 2021: Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce,” Haaland Tweeted after her confirmation. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

Jun 28, 2016: Senate Resolution 514. Declared May 5, 2017, National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

April 2016: The Dakota Access Pipeline Protests (#NoDAPL) begin. The protests were meant to stop construction of the pipeline and draw attention to the serious threat posed to the water supply of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, as well as burial grounds and other sites of historic importance. 

June 11, 2008: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the first public apology for the Government’s role in the Indian residential school system, which was created in the late 1800s to isolate Indigenous children from the influence of their own native culture and religion in order to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been working since 2008 to document the history and lasting impacts of residential schools. 

1996: The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), the cornerstone legal authority for the provision of health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, was made permanent when President Obama signed the bill on March 23, 2010, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Access to affordable healthcare remains a problem in many native communities to this day. 

December 23, 1994: The General Assembly of the United Nations declared August 9th to be International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. 

1989: Establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian by Congress. The Museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

August 11, 1978: The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFC) (42 U.S.C. 1996) was finally adopted and Indigenous people were finally granted some of the same Civil Rights to exercise our traditional faith by giving us access to sites, and the use of sacred objects. However, we are still fighting to obtain them, as even today non-tribal law enforcement continues to harass many Native Americans.

April 11, 1968: The Indian Civil Rights Act is signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, granting Native American tribes many of the benefits included in the Bill of Rights.

November 17, 1944: The National Congress of American Indians is founded. Today it is the largest non-profit organization of tribal government, citizens, and organizations advocating for policy development and issues to benefit native communities. 

May 1942: Members of the Navajo Nation develop a code to transmit messages and radio messages for the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Eventually, hundreds of code talkers from multiple Native American tribes serve in the U.S. Marines during the war.

March 4, 1929: Charles Curtis serves as the first Native American U.S. Vice President under President Herbert Hoover.

June 2, 1924: U.S. Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship to all Native Americans born in the territorial limits of the country. Previously, citizenship had been limited, depending on what percentage Native American ancestry a person had, whether they were veterans, or, if they were women, whether they were married to a U.S. citizen.

December 29, 1890: The Wounded Knee Massacre was the premeditated murder of 300 Lakota Indians by the United States government as the gov’t sought to continue to steal and repress the Plains Indians.

December 15, 1890: Sitting Bull, a Chief and Holy-man of the Hunkpapa Lakota Indians, was murdered by Indian police after someone in the crowd shot their guns at them. The police who came to arrest him shot him execution-style – straight in the head and one in the heart to ‘make sure he was really dead.’

February 8, 1887: The Dawes Act was passed to regulate land rights on tribal territories within the United States. It authorized the President of the United States to subdivide Native American tribal communal landholdings into allotments for Native American heads of families and individuals. This would convert traditional systems of land tenure into a government-imposed system of private property by forcing Native Americans to “assume a capitalist and proprietary relationship with property” that did not previously exist in their cultures.

June 25-26, 1876: The Battle of the Greasy Grass, also known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn or Custer’s Last Stand, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The battle, which resulted in the defeat of U.S. forces, was the most significant action of the Great Sioux War of 1876. It took place along the Little Bighorn River in the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana Territory. 

December 29, 1835: The Treaty of New Echota was signed by U.S. government officials and about 500 Cherokee Indians claiming to represent their 16,000-member tribe, in New Echota, Georgia. The agreement led to the forced removal of Cherokees from their southeastern homelands to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

May 28, 1830: The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the “Trail of Tears.”