All Indian Pueblo Council and the Bursum Bill

By Mathew Martinez, San Juan Pueblo

According to tribal oral history, the All Indian Pueblo Council has existed for many centuries as a pan-Pueblo political organization. The year 1598 is often the date cited as its origin because that was the recorded meeting with the Spaniards under Governor Juan de Oñate. The date 1598 appears on the logo of the All Indian Pueblo Council to indicate that Spaniards inscribed this date of the meeting. There is no doubt that some governing political entity was in existence during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and included a variety of leaders from across Pueblo country who had organized to overthrow Spanish forces.

The official operations of the council began on November 5, 1922, at Santo Domingo Pueblo, when John Collier assembled the Pueblos to explain the Bursum Bill. New Mexico senator Holm Olaf Bursum proposed a bill in Congress that would legitimize land claims of non-Indians who had resided for some time on Pueblo lands. It threw water rights and jurisdiction into the state court system, where Pueblo people would be at a considerable disadvantage. With the encouragement of John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pueblo people protested this usurpation. Collier and the Pueblo delegates traveled to Washington to speak against the Bursum Bill.

This was a time in history when Indian people had been coming to the forefront nationally. The Society of American Indians was founded, which included an organized body of Indian doctors, engineers, teachers, and other professional people. An excerpt of testimony in Congress on behalf of the All Indian Pueblos Council included the following:

Now we discover that the Senate has passed a bill, called the Bursum Bill, which will complete our destruction, and that Congress and the American people have been told that we, the Indians, have asked for this legislation. This, we say, is not true. We have never asked for this legislation. We were never given a chance of having anything to say or do about this bill. We have studied the bill over and found that this bill will deprive us of our happy life by taking away our lands and water and will destroy our Pueblo government and our customs which we have enjoyed for hundreds of years, and through which we have been able to be self-supporting and happy down to this day.

A strong coalition of Indian and non-Indian forces brought powerful pressure upon Congress. The evidence and testimony presented to Congress demonstrated the adverse effects of the bill upon Pueblo life. According to Pueblo people, the bill was an undercover effort to seize Pueblo land and the Bursum Bill was finally defeated.

On October 19, 1965, the All Indian Pueblo Council adopted a constitution and bylaws. This brought the traditional political entity into the structure of modern governmental bodies. The official charter brought two systems together – ancient and modern. This was the first time the council wrote its goals and mission on paper. The written text is relatively new among Pueblo people compared to the established tradition of oral history. Since 1965, the council’s objectives have been to encourage economic progress, education, and to organize on land, water and cultural rights issues.

The All Indian Pueblos Council has been a major player in supporting Indian education. In 1969, the council added a scholarship program to its mission and goals. As more Pueblo students received scholarships, college enrollment began to skyrocket. As a result, more educational programs were developed among the pueblos to support and help fund Pueblo students.

Today, the nineteen Pueblo governors are the official representatives of their pueblos to the All Indian Pueblos Council. They alone may vote in the council. The governors elect a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, and treasurer, all of whom serve as council officers. In the old days, meetings were held for several days and often longer, until all the pressing issues were decided. The length of time required to make a decision was due, in part, to the multiplicity of languages and dialects. The official language today is English, and the meetings proceed more quickly, although the older councilmen still require interpreters. The council has been a major actor in the political scene by endorsing local candidates as well as national leaders. The council has been in existence since pre-European contact and has been a major force in the development and support of Pueblo cultural values.


Sources Used:

Iverson, Peter. “We Are Still Here” in American Indians in the Twentieth Century. Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1998.

Sando, Joe S. Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Clear Light Publishers, 1992.

____. Pueblo Profiles: Cultural Identity through Centuries of Change. Clear Light Publisher, 1998.

Further Reading:

Collier, John. From Every Zenith, A Memoir and Some Essays on Life and Thought. Sage Books, 1963.

Philip, Kenneth R. John Collier’s Crusade for Indian Reform, 1920-1954. Tucson, 1977.

All Indian Pueblo Council and the Bursum Bill


The All Indian Pueblos Council has been in existence since pre-European contact. Its most significant accomplishment is the role it played in convening the meeting that resulted in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Throughout its existence the council has been actively involved in issues related to land, education, and cultural continuity. The All Indian Pueblos Council has been instrumental in the survival of Pueblo culture.

(c) Mathew Martinez, San Juan Pueblo. All rights reserved.