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Natural Resources Law Clinic Guide: Bureau of Indian Affairs


The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is a part of the Department of the Interior. The Bureau manages the over 55 acres of land held in trust for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. The Bureau is also tasked with improving quality of life for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.

The BIA also has two sub-bureaus, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police. The Bureau of Indian Education supports and/or directly operates elementary and secondary schools on reservations, and provides support to tribal colleges and universities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs Police overseas tribal police forces and polices tribal areas and reservations that do not have their own forces


Statutes and Regulations

Most of the Bureau of Indian Affairs statutes are in Title 25 of the United States Code and the regulations are in Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations. 

Agency Decisions

Decisions by the Bureau, along with other Department of Interior decisions, are available at the Office of Hearing and Appeals.

The Interior Board of Indian Appeals decisions are available on Westlaw.

Policies and Guidance

The Indian Affairs Manual contains the current policies and directives of the BIA. The manual is organized into Parts, which are the major functions and programs of the BIA.  The parts that appear most relevant to land are Parts 51-55, 76-77, and 90.

Regional directives put into place the manual at the regional level and are considered current unless superseded.  Unsurprisingly, regional directives cannot conflict with national policy.

Current and recently expired memoranda are also available on the BIA's website. The memoranda either National Policy Memoranda which are interim instructions for BIA employees, or Regional Policy Memoranda, which are interim instructions for a particular region (though regional policy cannot conflict with or supersede national policy).  Both National and Regional Policy Memoranda are valid for one year and may be extended for another year.  After this time, memoranda are superseded by updated guidance or converted to permanent policy.

The BIA also issues handbooks which are usually companions to the manuals. The handbook is more detailed than the associated manual, and generally include "how to" procedures for employees.

Though used only very rarely, Assistant Secretary's Orders are delegations of authority, emergency directives, special assignment of functions, and initial policy and functional statements establishing a new organizational unit made by the Assistant Secretary. Unless the order is extended, revoked, or incorporated into the Indian Affairs Manual, they are in effect for one year.