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New BIA building honors Ely Parker

WASHINGTON - The BIA has opened new offices in Reston, Va., named in honor of Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian and first Indian Commissioner for the United States government.

Under a 10-year lease agreement, the BIA-NBC Ely S. Parker Building will be home to the BIA's Offices of Management and Administration and Information Resource Management, as well as the Interior Department's National Business Center.

"It is appropriate that we name this building after Ely Parker, a former warrior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs," said Robert Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget and Finance, who represented Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt at the December dedication ceremony. "We welcome his descendants to this special place."

The event was attended by more 100 people, including Interior officials, representatives of the building's architectural and construction firms and Commissioner Parker's tribal nation and family.

Ely Samuel Parker (1828-1895), was a citizen of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and sachem for his tribe. As a youth he assisted anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan and pursued a legal career. However, when he passed his legal exams he was denied certification as an attorney because he was an Indian and not a U.S. citizen. Parker then shifted professions and became an engineer, supervising federal public works projects in Illinois, where he met the future general and president, Ulysses S. Grant.

Throughout the Civil War, Parker served as Grant's military secretary and is noted in history as the man who drafted the surrender agreement at Appomattox. As president, Grant named Parker the country's first Native commissioner of Indian affairs.

Speaking in the Seneca language, Norman Hill ("Taa-Wonya"), Wolf Clan Runner from the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, gave a thanksgiving blessing during the dedication. Also present was Bernadette Hill ("Go-Seni-Sas"), Heron Clan Mother from the Cayuga Nation and direct Parker descendant.

In his address, former Interior Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover talked about the life of Ely Parker and his role as commissioner from 1869 to 1871. Gover noted the paradox of Parker, as an American Indian and head of the BIA, carrying out federal policies aimed at assimilating Indian people while also trying to ensure that the United States honor its treaty obligations. Gover said Parker sought to eliminate widespread corruption within the BIA at a cost to his reputation and professional career.

A commemorative bronze plaque with Commissioner Parker's image and history will be installed in the building lobby.