National Indian Youth Council: History & Organization

Instructor: Charlotte Bunch

Charlotte has been teaching secondary education for five years. She has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education and a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Native Americans have a long and challenging history regarding the recognition and protection of their rights. Explore the history and the purpose of the National Indian Youth Council, an organization founded by and run by American Indians.

Purpose of the National Indian Youth Council

The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) is a national organization created and controlled by American Indians to advocate for American Indian education, health, social services, employment and civil rights. It is the second oldest Native American organization in the United States and is recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization (NGO). This means that within both the United States and the international community, the NIYC is considered a legitimate organization and voice for American Indians.

NIYC Flowchart

History of the National Indian Youth Council

Native Americans have had a long and challenging history with the United States Government regarding the recognition and protection of American Indian rights. Indian nations and confederations have formed, treaties have been signed, and the American government has continuously encroached upon and violated the rights of American Indians. In 1944 the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was founded, becoming the first national American Indian organization. NCAI membership was open to anyone of American Indian ancestry. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the NCAI directed its focus on pressing the federal government through negotiations and legal actions. In 1961 the NCAI met in Chicago to discuss how they could influence the incoming president, John F. Kennedy. They wrote a statement about the need for new federal policies toward Native Americans. However, the NCAI did not declare rights or raise all of the concerns of Native Americans.

Frustrated with what they saw as a lack of action, a group of young Native American college students decided to split from the NCAI and create the National Indian Youth Council. Founded in 1961 in Gallup, New Mexico, the NIYC activated a sense of national pride among young Native Americans. In its first years, the NIYC had a somewhat militant position, particularly through its involvement in securing native fishing rights in the state of Washington. The NIYC helped orchestrate 'fish-in' protests so that the state of Washington would abide by previous treaties that had been signed. The rights of the Native Americans were upheld in federal court with the U.S. v. Washington court decision. This landmark case ruled that Native Americans were entitled to take up to 50 percent of harvestable fish and that through a commission they could have equal part in managing the fishing industry.

The NIYC continued to attract new generations of Native Americans in later decades. They not only participated in civil rights movements, but also began speaking at seminars and attend hearings in front of federal agencies. In the 1970s the NIYC took an increasingly environmental focus by filing lawsuits to prevent companies from mining coal and uranium and from milling on Native American land.

NIYC and the United Nations

UN Flag

At the international level, the NIYC serves as an advisory organization to the United Nations. In 1984 the NIYC was granted non-governmental organization (NGO) status with the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The NIYC's goal is to be a voice for indigenous people in the United States and across the world. While participating in the U.N. forums, the NIYC presents written information regarding indigenous issues and sends representatives to meetings at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

There are two U.N. forums in which the NIYC is actively engaged. The first is the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), created in 2000. The UNPFII, which meets annually, is a high-level advisory body of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council. They discuss economic and social development, culture, environment, education, and health and human rights for all indigenous peoples.

The NIYC is also involved with the U.N.'s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), established by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The EMRIP provides studies, research and proposals on rights of indigenous peoples.

In 2007, the UN (with the help of the NIYC) adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which is the most widespread global tool on the rights of indigenous people and creates a complete structure of the standards for the well-being of indigenous peoples throughout the world. The NIYC has been able to use the UNDRIP to further its advocacy of human rights surrounding Native American causes throughout the United States.

Here is a way to help you understand how the NIYC is organized and how it helps the United Nations:


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