Indian Rights

April 15, 1977

Report Outline
Growth of Indian Assertiveness
Evolving U.S. Policy on Indians
Legal and Moral Issues Involved
Special Focus

Growth of Indian Assertiveness

Variety of Legal Actions on Indian Rights

American Indians have embarked on a campaign to seek restitution for what they charge has been more than two centuries of exploitation, fraud and double-dealing by the government and the white majority. In contrast to past campaigns that sought redress through often-violent confrontations, the country's most impoverished minority is now working within the political system to settle its grievances. The Indians are taking their case to court, and their suits—the most publicized of which is a claim by two tribes to a large part of the state of Maine—are being taken very seriously.

At the heart of the legal battle is the issue of tribal sovereignty that was acknowledged in almost 400 treaties between the government and Indian tribes from the late 18th century until 1868. But tribal sovereignty is not an absolute concept, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in 1956. The court said: “It would seem clear that the Constitution as construed by the Supreme Court, acknowledges the paramount authority of the United States with regard to Indian tribes but recognizes the existence of Indian tribes as quasi-sovereign entities possessing all the inherent rights of sovereignty except where restrictions have been placed thereon by the United States.”

A two-year congressional review of federal policy toward the Indians tended to support Indian claims that the government, particularly the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), has placed too many restrictions on tribal sovereignty and that some of these restrictions violate the government's treaties with the Indians. The American Indian Policy Review Commission, under the chairmanship of Sen. James Abourezk (D S.D.), made more than 100 recommendations for revising federal Indian policies. These include the replacement of BIA with an agency independent of Interior, tribal control over mineral, water, fishing, hunting and agricultural resources in Indian territory, and full jurisdiction over taxation and the trial of offenders in tribal courts. The report will be submitted to Congress on May 18.

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Feb. 17, 1984  American Indian Economic Development
Apr. 15, 1977  Indian Rights
Nov. 08, 1972  Preservation of Indian Culture
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