Key Developments in
Native American History

In conjunction with Beta Main's current exhibition Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves a timeline of key developments in Native American history was produced and researched by the museum's curatorial associate Monica Rodriguez.

Special thanks to Native American artist Gregg Deal for his counsel on the project.

The below timeline is a living document. If you would like to submit additional information for consideration please send a note to

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1851: U.S. Congress passes the Indian Appropriations Act, creating the reservation system.

1883: The federal government establishes the Courts of Indian Offenses to prosecute all traditional Native American ceremonies.

1883: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Native Americans are by birth “alien and dependent.”

1890: The 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army kills hundreds of Sioux women and children during the Battle of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.


1906: Congress passes the Antiquities Act declaring Native American bones and objects found on federal land to be property of the United States.

1924: Native Americans are granted U.S. citizenship and voting rights.

1934: President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Indian Reorganization Act, offering federal subsidies to tribes that adopt the U.S. Constitution.

Leonard Peltier – Waiting  on view as part of  Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves  at Beta Main, test site for The Main in Downtown Los Angeles.

Leonard Peltier – Waiting on view as part of Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves at Beta Main, test site for The Main in Downtown Los Angeles.

1944: Leonard Peltier is born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Leo Peltier (Chippewa) and Alvina Robideau (Dakota/Chippewa).

1944: The National Congress of American Indians is founded to resist federal government pressure for termination of tribal rights and assimilation.

1956: Congress passes the Indian Relocation Act, encouraging Native Americans to leave reservations, acquire vocational skills, and assimilate into the general population.

1968: The American Indian Movement (AIM) is founded in Minneapolis by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Eddie Benton Banai, and George Mitchell to protect the rights of Native Americans.

1968: U.S. Congress passes the Indian Civil Rights Act, making many, but not all, of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights applicable within Native American tribes.

1969: A group of Native Americans calling themselves Indians of All Tribes occupy Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. They issue a proclamation, which states that Alcatraz is “more than suitable as an Indian Reservation as determined by the white man’s own standards.”

1970: President Nixon delivers a speech to Congress denouncing past federal policies of assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American society and calling for a new era of self-determination for Native American people.

1970: The National Day of Mourning, a protest that takes place on Thanksgiving Day, sees AIM activists occupying Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, to honor their Native American ancestors and protest the taking of Native American lands.

Karuk – Guarani Encounter  on view as part of  Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves  on view at Beta Main

Karuk – Guarani Encounter on view as part of Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves on view at Beta Main

1972: Leonard Peltier joins AIM.

1972: The Trail of Broken Treaties, a cross-country protest organized by AIM leaders and activists, brings attention to Native American issues and builds support for tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

1972: A group of five hundred AIM members occupy the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., for seven days, resulting in the presentation of a twenty-point paper of demands to President Nixon.

1973: Members of the AIM occupy a trading post at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and declare it the Independent Oglala Sioux Nation.

1974: The Women of All Red Nations, a Native American women’s organization, is founded by Lorelei DeCora Means, Madonna Thunderhawk, Phyllis Young, Janet McCloud, and others.

1975: The Lakota healer Frank Fools Crow becomes the first Native American holy man to lead the opening prayer for a session of the U.S. Senate.

1975: The Reign of Terror takes place, in which the FBI carries out intensive local surveillance, as well as repeated arrests, harassment, and bad faith legal proceedings against AIM leaders and supporters on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

1975: Pine Ridge elders ask AIM leaders to send members to the reservation to protect against attacks by the Guardians of the Oglala Nation, a private paramilitary group formed by Dick Wilson, chair of the Oglala Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, to suppress political opponents.

1975: Leonard Peltier moves to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to assist the Oglala Lakota organize security there.

1975: A shootout at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation between two FBI agents and several members of AIM resulted in the deaths of Jack Coler and Ronald Williams (the two FBI agents) and Joe Stuntz (a member of AIM whose murder has never been investigated). Dick Wilson, chair of the Pine Ridge tribal council, signs a secret agreement transferring one-eighth of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, lands rich in uranium and other minerals, to the federal government.

1975: Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, Jimmy Eagle, and Dino Butler are indicted for the murder of the two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.

1976: Bob Robideau and Dino Butler are found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense by a federal jury in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

1976: Leonard Peltier is extradited from Canada on the basis of a false affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a Native American woman known to have serious mental health problems.

1976: President Gerald Ford signs the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

It’s 2018 – Why Is Leonard Peltier Still in Prison?  on view as part of  Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves  on view at Beta Main

It’s 2018 – Why Is Leonard Peltier Still in Prison? on view as part of Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves on view at Beta Main

1977: Peltier is convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first-degree murder in the shooting of two FBI agents.

1978: Congress passes the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, overturning the ban on American Indian spiritual practices.

1978: In the Longest Walk, several hundred Native American activists and supporters march from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Washington, D.C., calling attention to the ongoing problems plaguing Native American communities.

1984: Indian Health Care Improvement Act is vetoed by President Ronald Reagan.

1986: Peltier’s conviction is affirmed by the U.S. Eighth Circuit of Appeals, despite acknowledgment by the federal government of FBI misconduct.

1990: Congress passes the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

1990: The term Two-Spirit is adopted as a more appropriate label to encompass the spectrum of sexual and gender identities within Native American communities.

1992: The National Coalition of Racism in Sports and Media is established to organize against the use of Indian images and names for logos, symbols, or mascots in professional and collegiate sports.

1993: The Eighth Circuit again denies Peltier’s appeal and reaffirms his conviction.

1996: The U.S. Parole Commission again denies Peltier parole.


2001: President Bill Clinton denies executive clemency to Leonard Peltier.

2004: The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian opens to the public.

2007: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, setting an important standard for the treatment of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.

2008: More than eight hundred participants from many Indian nations repeat the Longest Walk of 1978 to draw attention to the protection of sacred sites, youth empowerment, and Native American rights.

2008: The Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon becomes the first tribal nation to expand marriage equality to LGBT members.

2009: President George W. Bush formally denies Leonard Peltier’s request for executive clemency.

2009: President Barack Obama signs the Native American Heritage Day Resolution 2009, designating the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day.”

2011: Environmental and indigenous groups launch a massive campaign against the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, an oil pipeline system that would run through tribal lands and threaten water resources and places of spiritual significance.

2014: President Obama visits Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the first sitting president to ever visit a North Dakota reservation.

2015: President Obama rejects the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal.

2016: Standing Rock Sioux oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

2017: President Obama denies clemency to Leonard Peltier.

Innocent!  graphic by Emory Douglas on view as part of  Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves  at Beta Main.

Innocent! graphic by Emory Douglas on view as part of Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves at Beta Main.