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Indian Reorganization Act

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), known also as the Wheeler-Howard Act for the two United States Senators sponsoring the bill, was the first major effort from the U.S. federal government to allow tribes to govern their own affairs. The IRA provided tribal nations with resources to create a written constitution, halted the allotment process, and authorized funds for use by tribal communities to organize and educate their nation’s citizens. Most importantly, the IRA recognized the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations.

An attempt to reverse the ill-effects of the 1887 Dawes Act, which made members of tribal communities like the CPN destitute on their own lands, the IRA redirected tribal governance from Washington D.C. to the tribal nations themselves. In 1936, the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act extended the IRA’s reach to Oklahoma tribes whose governments had virtually dissolved after decades of allotment and assimilation.

Passage of the Indian Reorganization Act lead to over 160 tribal nations and villages adopting a written constitution, with the CPN drafting its own in 1937 and receiving final approval from the Secretary of the Interior on October 17th, 1938. This initial constitution, while an important step in the self-governance of the CPN, would prove limiting as time went on. The CPN constitution would be amended and ratified nine different times in the decades after 1938 and resulted in the 2007 constitutional reform removing the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ oversight entirely.


Law & Constitution:

  1. Constitution of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation
  2. The Indian Reorganization Act

Books & Articles:

  1. Deloria, Vine, Jr., ed. The Indian Reorganization Act: Congresses and Bills. Norman, Okla: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
  2. Rusco, E. R. A Fateful Time: The Background and Legislative History of the Indian Reorganization Act. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2000.
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