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Native American Resources in the Manuscript Division

Commissioners, Agents, and Traders

Unattributed. Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes handing first constitution issued under the Indian Reorganization Act to delegates of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation. October 28, 1935. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

While presidents and Congress dictated the direction of American policy towards Indigenous peoples, it was up to so-called Indian agents, acting on behalf of the federal government, to carry out that policy, sometimes in conjunction with U.S. military presence and state and territorial officials and politicians.

The collections on this page span centuries, from the 1727 journal of British colonial commissioner Theodore Atkinson to Patricia Harris's 1980 review of the Indian Health Service. The majority of these collections come from individuals associated with the Department of the Interior, and particularly with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A few collections deal with miscellaneous federal government material, or with private traders. As the individuals tasked with interfacing between the federal government and Native Americans, these papers offer valuable insight into the on-the-ground conditions at various points in American history.

Notable collections on this topic include the papers of Harold Ickes (pictured on the right), who served as Secretary of the Interior from 1933-1946. Especially relevant in this extensive collection is documentation of Ickes's work with commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, who advocated against allotment and assimilationist policies regarding Native American cultures. To this end, Collier worked with Congress to pass the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. Ickes's papers reveal his longstanding support for Collier's efforts, including his membership in Collier's organization, the American Indian Defense Association.

Also included on this page are several collections from individuals who were not employed officially by the United States government, but who interacted with Native groups alongside or in lieu of Indian agents. For example, the papers of George Johnston consist of a journal written while stationed along the Red River as a trader with the American Fur Company. These collections enrich our understanding of settler-indigenous relations beyond the scope of the federal government.

Tip: Search collection names in the community name index for a fuller list of specific communities mentioned in each collection.


The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.