Native American Law - Indigenous, Aboriginal and Minorities Law

Aboriginal, Native American, Indian, or Indigenous Peoples laws all generally refer to American laws relating to Native Americans, also known as American Indians. The variety of names reflect the controversial nature of these laws and the terms used to describe these peoples. In the American tradition the term "Indians" refers to the indigenous peoples of North America prior to European colonization. However, many American "Indians" now prefer to be referred to as "Native Americans." Similarly, where "tribe" or "band" have historically designated a group of Indians of the same or similar heritage, Native Americans have increasingly preferred the terms "nation" or "people." This leads to an unusual complexity in the body of Native American laws because of the wide variety of synonymous terms used to describe the same peoples, social structures, and legal principles.

Moreover, Aboriginal Law is a variety of state, federal, and international law, as well as a variety of federal regulations. Much of the recent legislation and regulations in this area address both civil rights of these peoples and social programs designed to protect these unique cultures and promote economic independence. The international aspects of these laws relate to which tribes or nations a government may recognize. For examples, some states may recognize particular Indian groups even when the federal government does not. Factors like the extent of Indian governmental control over the lives of their individual members, the political coherence of the group and its control over a specified territory, and the continuity of the group's history all play a role in whether various levels of government choose to recognize the political autonomy of these groups.

Federal law allows Native Americans a kind of special sovereign autonomy, subject to an overriding federal authority, similar to the interaction between the states and the federal government. Federal law treats Indian tribes as "domestic, dependent nations." This law was enacted by Congress to protect the sovereign authority of Indian groups from state authority. This includes the sovereign authority of Indian tribal courts to decide disputes relating to Indian affairs. However, these courts lack authority over non-Indians, even if they conduct activity on an Indian reservation unless the activity threatens the welfare of the tribe.

The resources below will provide additional information about this broad and complex area of the law, and attorneys who may be able to assist you with your aboriginal law questions may be found under the "Law Firms" tab, above.

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