Indian Rights Association

The Indian Rights Association (IRA) was a social activist group dedicated to the well being and acculturation of American Indians. Founded by non-Indians in Philadelphia in 1882, the group was highly influential in American Indian policy through the 1930s and remained involved as an organization until 1994. The organization's initial stated objective was to "bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship."

The organization was founded in 1883 by Herbert Welsh and Henry Spackman Pancoast after they travelled with an Episcopal mission to the Dakota Territory in 1882 and spent four weeks with the Sipux agencies.[1] In 1884 they opened an additional office in Washington, D.C., to act as a legislative lobby and liaison with the Board of Indian Commissioners and the Board of Indian Affairs. The IRA also opened an early office in Boston, Massachusetts. The management of early Indian Rights Association's programs fell almost entirely to five men, all of whom had lengthy careers with the IRA: Herbert Welsh, Matthew Sniffen, and Lawrence E. Lindley, active in Philadelphia; and Charles C. Painter and Samuel M. Brosius, agents and lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

In addition to efforts on policy development and congressional lobbying, the Indian Rights Association monitored the actions of Bureau of Indian Affairs agents and observed Native American living conditions and health care needs through correspondence and trips to reservations and settlements. They also sponsored speaking tours for activists and Indian representatives as a means of informing the public about native issues. The Unitarian minister and journalist Jonathan Baxter Harrison was an especially influential observer, publishing several books and articles detailing his findings in the late 1880s.

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