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Tribal Jurisdiction and “Indian Country”

A basic concept of Indian law based on Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is that the federal government can deal with Indian nations to the exclusion of the states. In other words, the power to control Indian affairs is divided between the federal government and Indian tribes. This "control" is called "jurisdiction."
Jurisdiction deals with:
1. Control over lives, property and territory
2. Exercising governmental powers

As a general rule, since most Indian nations have given up some powers and rights to the federal government, they SHARE jurisdiction with the United States.

What Property?

The property owned by Indian nations includes land and resources. Indian land can be called:
• Reservations
• Communities
• Allotments
• Colonies
• Rancheria
• Pueblo

What Resources?
• Trust funds paid to tribes and individuals for leases, sale of land and resources, treaty provisions, land claims
• Natural resources

Definition of "Indian Country”
Indian Country is not just a "reservation." The legal definition of "Indian Country" is found in 18 U.S.C. 1151.
a. Reservation. All land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government, notwithstanding the issuances of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running through the reservation…"
b. Dependent Indian communities. All dependent Indian communities within the borders of the United States whether within the original or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and whether within or without the limits of a state…"
c. Allotments. "All Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including rights-of-way running through the same.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision has defined "Indian Country" very broadly:
• Validity Set Apart
• Established on formal or informal basis
• Dependent Indian Community
• Allotments

• United States v. Pelican, 232 U.S. 442, 449 (1914)
• United States v. John, 437 U.S. 634 (1978)
• Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Citizen Band Potawatomie (1991)
• Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Sac and Fox Nation (1993)

It is important to note, however, that just because the law says a tribe has jurisdiction, it doesn't mean that it won't have to fight for it. States and individuals (both Indian and non-Indian) are constantly challenging in the courts the jurisdiction of tribes to tax, to enforce laws and other matters. Generally speaking, the courts have found in favor of the Tribes, thereby wasting tax payer dollars.

“Governmental Powers & Tribal Sovereignty” of Youth for Tribal Government, by Kirke Kickingbird and Lynn Shelby Kickingbird,“Governmental Powers & Tribal Sovereignty” of Youth for Tribal Government, by Kirke Kickingbird and Ly

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