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indian law: an overview

The term "Indians" refers to Eskimos, Aleuts, and native North Americans (inhabitants of North America prior to European discovery). An Indian tribe is a body of Indians of the same or similar race united in a community under one leadership or government, and inhabiting a particular territory. The term "tribe" is not always used with this meaning. It is sometimes used interchangeably with "nation" or "subtribe." The term may vary from statute to statute as well. To determine whether a group has maintained tribal relations and structure to constitute a tribe, courts and legislatures examine many factors such as the extent of Indian governmental control over their lives and activities, and the extent to which the group exercises political control over specific territory.

Federal law recognizes sovereign authority in Indian tribes to govern themselves; an authority greater in many respects than that of the states. Indian tribes are subordinate and dependent nations, protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. There are numerous federal statutes dealing with Indian rights and governance, such as the Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Civil Rights Act (also known as the Indian Bill of Rights). 28 U.S.C. 1360 deals with state civil jurisdiction in actions in which Indians are parties.

           

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        • Good Starting Point in Print: Canby's American Indian Law in a Nutshell, West Group (3d ed. 1998).

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