Among the historical records housed at National Archives facilities throughout the country, researchers can find information relating to Native Americans from as early as 1774. Learn more on our Native American Heritage web page and view related records in the National Archives Catalog.
When the U.S. entered World War I, American Indians volunteered to serve despite a long history of discrimination against indigenous people and their traditional culture. Many Native Americans weren’t even recognized as U.S. citizens. In honor of National American Indian Heritage Month and Veterans Day, a collection of World War I records are being exhibited in the East Rotunda Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC through December 4, 2019 to highlight one of the unique ways that Native American soldiers used their language and cultural heritage to serve the country.
During World Wars I and II, the U.S. military needed to encrypt communications from enemy intelligence. American Indians had their own languages and dialects that few outside their tribes understood; therefore, their languages were ideal encryption mechanisms. Over the course of both wars, the Army and the Marine Corps recruited hundreds of American Indians to become Code Talkers. Records at the National Archives document the origins of this program and the group’s wartime contributions.
Federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Indian Affairs, documented the Native American residents of reservations as well as their living and working conditions. The photographs in these series document daily life, work (especially farming), construction projects, houses, reservation schools, and traditional crafts. Thousands of them have been digitized and are available in the Catalog in Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The National Archives is in the final year of a four-year effort to digitize a set of 377 Ratified Indian Treaties from the vault holdings at the National Archives in Washington DC. This project is supported by an anonymous donor and the National Archives Foundation. The National Archives is performing much-needed conservation work on these materials and will digitize the entire contents of the file for each treaty. This includes scanning the Treaties themselves along with accompanying papers: the Presidential Proclamations, and the Resolutions of Ratification by Senate. All scanned materials will be available in our National Archives Catalog. Conservation treatments have been completed on all 377 of the treaties, and more than 268 of the treaties have been digitized. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
In collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Archives loaned more than 20 original Indian treaties for the inaugural exhibits. Since 2014, original treaties between the U.S. Government and American Indian Nations have been on display in the exhibit Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. When we first began working together on the exhibition, the plan was a four-year run with eight treaties. It’s been such a success that the exhibit has been extended into 2021.
Learn more about Native American Heritage Month as well a featured collection of Native American Records in NARA’s holdings on National Archives News.
Searching the Dawes Rolls
The Dawes Commission, known formally as the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, was appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 1893 and headed by Henry L. Dawes to negotiate land with the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes.
Tribe members were allotted land in return for abolishing tribal governments and recognizing Federal laws. In order to receive the land, individual tribal members first had to apply and be deemed eligible by the Commission.
The Commission accepted applications from 1898 until 1907, with a few additional people accepted by an Act of Congress in 1914. The resulting lists of those who were accepted as eligible for land became known as the Dawes Rolls. The Rolls contain over 101,000 names and can be searched to discover the enrollee’s name, sex, blood degree, and census card number. Today these five tribes continue to use the Dawes Rolls as the basis for determining tribal membership.
For step by step instructions on how to search the Dawes Rolls, visit our NARAtions blog.
Interested in more conducting more research? Consult History Hub for more Native American records and resources at the National Archives:
The American Solider in World War II Transcribe-a-thon
Join us in a continuing celebration of Veterans Day with a transcribe-a-thon focused on uncensored, handwritten reflections from World War II soldiers on war and military service: The American Soldier in World War II.
More than 2,000 pages were transcribed during a 72-hour transcribe-a-thon earlier this week, over 65,000 pages have been transcribed since the project’s launch in May 2018. You can still participate! The project continues on Zooniverse. Can you help transcribe another 2,000 pages?
The American Soldier in World War II project is a collaboration among multiple units at Virginia Tech (College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; University Libraries; and Center for Human-Computer Interaction), the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, with additional support from the Social Science Research Council.
Record Group Explorer Missions for Citizen Archivists
In a recent newsletter, we announced a new pathway to view and explore the records of the National Archives: the Record Group Explorer. You can use this tool to see an overview of the scans of records currently available in our Catalog, organized by Record Group and format.