Agencies to handle relationships with Native Americans had existed in the U.S. government since 1775, when the Second Continental Congress created a trio of Indian-related agencies. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry were appointed among the early commissioners to negotiate treaties with Native Americans in order to obtain their neutrality during the American Revolutionary War.
In 1789, the U.S. Congress placed Native American relations within the newly formed War
Department. By 1806 the Congress had created a Superintendent of Indian Trade, or “Office of Indian Trade” within the War Department, who was charged with maintaining the factory trading network of the fur trade.
The government licensed traders to have some control in Indian territories and gain a share of the lucrative trade.
The abolition of the factory system left a void within the U.S. government regarding Native American relations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was formed on March 11, 1824, by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who created the agency as a division within his department, without authorization from the United States Congress. It has remained under this name from then on.
In 1869, Ely Samuel Parker was the first Native American to be appointed as commissioner of Indian affairs.
One of the most controversial policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, among many others, was the late 19th to early 20th century decision to educate native children in separate boarding schools, with an emphasis on assimilation that prohibited them from using their indigenous languages, practices, and cultures. It emphasized being educated to European-American culture. Some were beaten for praying to their own creator god.