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KatawaGrey's avatar

Can the United States government enforce any laws on Native American reservations?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21413points) March 24th, 2010

As I am sitting here watching New Moon don’t judge me I wonder how the legal systems on reservations work. Can the US government enforce laws on the reservations? I know that gambling is legal on tribal lands but are there other things that are illegal in the US that are legal on tribal lands?

Sorry about the shitty details. I really have no idea how to word this question in a less confusing manner. Also, if anyone wants to take issue with my use of “Native American” versus “Indian” please either start a new question or PM me.

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17 Answers

Bluefreedom's avatar

I found this on Wikipedia and it might help as an answer:

Land Tenure and Federal Indian Law

With the establishment of reservations, tribal territories diminished to a fraction of original areas and indigenous customary practices of land tenure sustained only for a time, and not in every instance. Instead, the federal government established regulations that subordinated tribes to the authority, first, of the military, and then of the Bureau (Office) of Indian Affairs. Under federal law, the government patented reservations to tribes, which became legal entities that at later times have operated in a corporate manner. Tribal tenure identifies jurisdiction over land use planning and zoning, negotiating (with the close participation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) leases for timber harvesting and mining. Tribes generally have authority over other forms of economic development such as ranching, agriculture, tourism, and casinos.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My knowledge of reservations ends at knowing about the public health concerns and all that has to do with two-spirit communities. Otherwise, learning any more about these communities in terms of laws and power makes me extremely ashamed of this country and its past. Thank you for asking this question.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

If you read any of the Tony Hillerman novels (most of his main characters are Navajo, but he also touches on Hopi, Zuni, Apache and some others) you would find out that the FBI investigates a lot of crime (capital crimes such as murder and kidnapping, and Federal crimes, too) that occurs on ‘Federal’ reservations, in conjunction with the Tribal Police. (Hillerman’s novels are based on Navajo Tribal Police investigations and procedures.)

It’s clear that not even the principals themselves get it right all the time.

meagan's avatar

Great question. I’m sure they can enforce (federal?) laws. I’ve been speaking to a lot of Native people lately and a lot of them live in ‘Communities’. I’m not sure the difference between this and Reservations.

MagicalMystery's avatar

i heard there is some new law regarding Native American reservations and the selling of tobacco products – i’m sorry i don’t know the details but i kind of have a feeling that the answer is yes.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Hm… all of these answers are very enlightening, thank you. I thought that maybe the situation with tribal lands might be like with Puerto Rico as in they are a connected to the US but still have their own governments and the like.

WestRiverrat's avatar

The Federal government can enforce Federal law on reservations. State, local cannot except at the express permission of the Tribal Government. Only the tribal Government can enact/enforce local laws.

BIA has jurisdiction on most reservations. Usually no FBI unless the BIA police call them in.

meagan's avatar

I’m loving how my federal answer came from an episode of the xfiles… haha

Trillian's avatar

@meagan Mulder is always right.

meagan's avatar

@Trillian He has a right to remain sexy…..... hahahaha.

casheroo's avatar

don’t worry, I just watched New Moon too. shhh

JLeslie's avatar

Yarnlady probably knows.

kevbo's avatar

Haven’t read the above, but in New Mexico we in the last year or two had a drunk driving accident case that couldn’t be prosecuted even though the event happened in Albuquerque. Somehow sovereignty prevented the Native American driver (who was a resident of the reservation) from being prosecuted.

JLeslie's avatar

@kevbo Now that doesn’t seem right. If I do something illegal in another country, I still have to stand trial.

I don’t mean you are not right, I mean it does not seem just.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@kevbo That is similar to the way it works in SD. It isn’t that he can’t be prosecuted, he just can’t be arrested on the Reservation by State, City or County cops. As long as he doesn’t break any reservation laws, the tribal police will not actively pursue most misdemeanor warrants. BIA will usually step in if there are felony charges, but not always.

Once the statute of limitations runs out the alledged drunk can leave the reservation without fear of prosecution.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Native Americans in many areas are also granted permission to use certain kinds of drugs that are illegal off reservations – since the use of said drugs dates far back into their history and is used to enhance spiritual journeys. I think it falls under the “right to practice religion (or whatever it’s called) laws.

misterx's avatar

Basically to make it really easy tribes are “Semi-sovereign” nations. All U.S. Federal laws apply but not the laws of the states in which they reside. They are basically their own states.

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