Board of Indian Commissioners

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The Board of Indian Commissioners was a committee that advised the federal government of the United States on Native American policy and it inspected supplies delivered to Indian agencies to ensure the fulfillment of government treaty obligations to tribes.


The board, established by Congress on 10 April 1869, authorized the president to organize a board of not more than ten persons "to be selected by him from men eminent for their intelligence and philanthropy, to serve without pecuniary compensation."[1] It remained an all-Protestant, male body[2] until 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed two Roman Catholics to fill vacancies.[3]

Grant's Indian peace policy

Beginning in 1869, and in concert with the board, President Ulysses S. Grant attempted to formulate a new humane policy towards Native American tribes that was free of political corruption. Known as the Peace Policy, it aimed to place Native Americans on reservations where, in collaboration with Christian Church organizations, the Office of Indian Affairs would provide Native Americans with moral and competent Indian agents, establish churches and schools, teach agriculture and civilized pursuits and provide high-quality supplies at reasonable prices.

In 1872, the implementation of the policy involved the allotting of Indian reservations to religious organizations as exclusive religious domains. Of the 73 agencies assigned, the Methodists received fourteen; the Orthodox Friends ten; the Presbyterians nine; the Episcopalians eight; the Roman Catholics seven; the Hicksite Friends six; the Baptists five; the Dutch Reformed five; the Congregationalists three; Christians two; Unitarians two; American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions one; and Lutherans one. The distribution caused immediate dissatisfaction among many groups who claimed that they had been slighted or overlooked. The selection criteria were vague and some critics saw the Peace Policy as violating Native American freedom of religion. Among the Roman Catholics, this dissatisfaction led to the establishment of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions in 1874.

The Peace Policy remained in force until 1881, when the government heeded the protests of religious organizations whose missionaries had been removed from reservations on which they had not been assigned.[4]


  1. United States Statutes at Large, XVI, 40.
  2. Fritz, Henry E. Board of Indian Commissioners. Accessed 21 February 2009.
  3. Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners, 1902 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1903), 22-23.
  4. Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in Crisis, Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865-1900, ISBN 0-8061-1279-4, 30-71.