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Native Drums

About Us

The story of the American Indian Institute is the story of the long, patient

endeavors required to build trust and understanding among groups with vastly diverse

interests and world views. It is a 40 year story that represents no more than a moment

in the ancient history of which it is a part. And, it is a success story among the many

stories in the world of failed attempts to draw together peoples of differing cultural and

ethnic backgrounds in peaceful, mutually respectful coexistence.



Creating a Two-Circles Structure

In August 1977 at the Headwaters of the Missouri River, the Absaalooke (Crow)

Nation hosted a gathering of approximately 35 Indian spiritual leaders. They

had traveled to the gathering from the four directions. They worked together

to forge the Two-Circles relationship between the Traditional Circle of Indian

Elders and Youth and the American Indian Institute.

Based on ancient Native American understandings, the Two Circles were

described as equal yet separate, fulfilling their common purpose by using

common sense and behaving with mutual respect, and responsibility.

The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth is composed of grassroots

spiritual leaders from Indian nations throughout North America. Structured in

the ancestral way, the Circle is open to all traditional Indian people. It serves as

a living repository of indigenous wisdom and values. Its focus is exclusively

on perpetuating traditional cultural and spiritual values.

In accord with ancient ways, the Traditional Circle discusses indigenous issues in

terms of traditional values, and comes to consensus. In certain cases, the Circle

looks to the American Indian Institute to help find ways to implement possible

solutions. In all cases, the Institute seeks to provide financial and administrative support whenever requested by the Circle.


The American Indian Institute is a non-Indian Circle that provides administrative, fund development and program support to advance the work and vision of the Traditional Circle. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Institute is structured as a typical American charitable organization. Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, it is a small organization with a worldwide mission. It is community-based not in a geographic community, but in a community of interest — non-Indians dedicated to the survival of indigenous heritages and to the support of the traditional people through whom that survival will be achieved.

Accomplishments of the Two Circles Working Together

Each year since the Missouri Headwaters meeting in 1977, an International Council of traditional Indian spiritual leaders has taken place. Each was hosted by an Indian Nation in a location of its choosing. Click here for a list of councils and locations.
With the guidance of the Traditional Circle, the Institute established a unique intergenerational program, Healing the Future, for Indian youth and families. The program combines traditional healing and ceremonial experiences with intervention and counseling activities to build on the strengths of Native communities to care for one another and the Earth. Today the youth and family program continues under our Traditional Youth Leadership Initiative.


With the support of the Institute, representatives of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth sent a delegation to the Fourth World Wilderness Conference in Denver, CO in 1987.

Since 1986 the Institute has served as the fiscal agent for the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team.

To increase intercultural awareness and appreciation, the Institute helped organize a tour of Japan in 1988 and 1989 with a festival of Native North American arts, including Indian dance and visual arts.

The Institute helped organize and fund a delegation of indigenous people of North America to attend a Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders in London, Moscow and Kyoto in 1990.

In 1992 a Circle delegation participated in the international Environmental Summit held in Rio de Janeiro.

In 1993 another indigenous delegation went to the Global Forum held in Kyoto, Japan.

In 2002 a delegation of non-Indian friends and supporters of the American Indian Institute were invited to sit in Council during the final day of the Elders & Youth Council held on the Turner Ranch near the Spanish Peaks of Montana.

In 2006, the Traditional Circle and Institute held their first join program - the Ancient Voices-Contemporary Contexts Forum on the shores of Bemidji Lake, Minnesota.  Other Forums have been held in 2007 (Haid Gwaii, B.C), 2008 (Flathead Reservation, Montana), 2010 (Navajo), 2011 (Kanatiohareke Mohawk Community, Upstate New York), and 2013 at Ghost Ranch near Abiqui, New Mexico.

Our next Ancient Voices Forum is tentatively scheduled for September 2015 at the Six Nations Grand River Reserve in Ontario, Canada around the theme of renewing the Silver Chain Covenant.

If you would like to support the Circle of Elders, please
click here to see how you can help.

The American Indian Institute &

the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth


“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.” Crazy Horse, Sioux Chief

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