- Almost Invisible:The Brotherhood of North American Indians (1911) and the League of North American Indians (1935)
Native American people established intertribal or pan-Indian organizations throughout the twentieth century. Existing scholarship has made us familiar with several, including the Society of American Indians (1911), the American Indian Federation (1934), the National Congress of American Indians (1944), the National Indian Youth Council (1961), and the American Indian Movement (1968).1 On the other hand, there are others we know very little about. Two such organizations are the Brotherhood of North American Indians (1911) and the League of North American Indians (1935), also called the League of Nations, Pan-American Indians. The League has received only passing scholarly references, including mentions in the earliest and latest writings of Native American scholar Vine Deloria Jr. In a 2003 essay, Deloria writes, "The League of Nations—Pan-American Indians was in its final phase [in the late 1960s], although I tried my best, in the afterword in Custer [Died For Your Sins (1969)], to boost its status."2
There are multiple reasons we know so little about the Brotherhood and the League. One is that a percentage of the public, both Indian and non-Indian, had a negative view of both organizations since they were led by so-called controversial figures. This image or representation has discouraged later generations from making historical inquiries about these and other organizations. When scholars do write about them, their descriptions are largely negative and based on official Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) documentation.3 This article examines [End Page 43] why the two organizations ended up almost invisible in twentieth-century Native American history.
The Brotherhood of North American Indians
Richard C. Adams, a member of the Delaware Tribe in Oklahoma, founded the Brotherhood of North American Indians on December 5, 1911, in Washington, D.C. Adams drafted a written constitution that included the following objectives: to "promote a feeling of friendship, brotherhood, and good citizenship" among the Indian tribes; to "perpetuate the ancient traditions" of the tribes; and "to collect . . . records, papers, and documents" of Indian tribes. Indian tribes could organize local Brotherhood chapters and send representatives to larger conventions to be held in Washington, D.C. Participants at the conventions would elect twenty national chiefs and also council officers, including a Great Sachem, a Chief Historian, and a Great Chaplain. Any person of Indian blood could become a member of the Brotherhood. Non-Indians married to Indians could also become members, but their status would be strictly "honorary" (they couldn't vote). The president and vice president of the United States, the commissioner of Indian affairs of the BIA, and other public officials could also become honorary members.4
Besides the written constitution, Adams produced other written statements that outlined additional objectives for the organization. The Brotherhood wanted the federal government to fulfill its treaty obligations by allowing tribes to press claims in the U.S. Court of Claims against the white Americans. It wanted the BIA to release Indian trust money (up to 25 percent per individual) so Indian allottees who received land allotments under the Dawes Act of 1887 could improve their land. The Brotherhood favored Indian "preference," or that the BIA needed to hire qualified Indians for BIA jobs. It wanted Indian children to attend public schools, implying that the BIA schools were inferior. It wanted Indians to possess the right to vote, or that Indians needed to become U.S. citizens. And the Brotherhood wanted Indian delegates in Congress, with one delegate representing every 60,000 Indians.5 Of course, Adams favored Indian presence in Congress because of the Delaware Treaty of 1778 (the first American treaty with an Indian tribe), which noted that the Delawares would have representation in Congress.6
The Brotherhood also publicized itself in different ways. It selected Senator Robert L. Owen of Oklahoma to give the keynote address at the founding organizational meeting held in December 1911. Owen told the Indian audience that Indians had been weakened over the years because of their tribal diversity, and that the Brotherhood would bring them together politically.7 The organization also had two [End Page 44...