Indian Country Law – embedded into U.S. Law through The Constitution, Treaties & Contract Law, The Great Law of Peace, Supreme Court Rulings, Local Customs, and moral implications:

     The term “Indian” connotes very different meanings to people: some consider the colloquialism derogatory (and inaccurate) while others wear it proudly.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the term Indian is a legal term, usually pertaining to American Indians rather than to Hindu people (another colloquialism) from India.  

Legal Term Definitions Pertaining to   “Indian Country”:

     Below you will find legal term definitions derived from Black’s Law Dictionary Tenth Edition — the most commonly cited legal dictionary in U.S. federal courts[1]  Our intention for posting these terms is not to  promote or denounce what the Supreme Court has decided: instead our goal is to interpret and inform regarding “what the law has previously decided” so that grievances may be effectively redressed without confusion or misunderstanding.  Although different words can mean different things to different people, when going into a courtroom it is important to be legally prepared to negotiate on the terms that have been set forth so that everyone at the table may communicate with unprecedented clarity with one another.  With no further adieu:

Essential Legal Terminology for Understanding the Tribal-U.S. Government Relationship as defined by Federal Law:

American Indian tribe – a definable group characterized by sociological, cultural, and familial links residing on one reservation.  aka federally-recognized tribe.

  • Treaty – a contract formally signed, ratified, or adhered to between two countries or sovereigns, or a contract between two or more states that is governed by international law.
  • Reservation – a country’s formal declaration, upon signing or ratifying a treaty, that it becomes party to the treaty conditioned on the modification or amendment of one or more provisions of the treaty as applied in its relations with the other parties to the treaty.

Fiduciary Relationship – where one person is under a duty to act with a high degree of care (the fiduciary) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary) on matters within the scope of the relationship.

     In the fiduciary relationship between each American Indian tribe and the U.S. federal government, the government acts as the fiduciary to each tribe as a beneficiary.

Fiduciary – someone who owes to another the duties of good faith, loyalty, due care, & disclosure in managing another’s money or property.

Beneficiary – someone who is designated to receive something as a result of a legal arrangement or instrument.

     As fiduciary, the federal government must manage tribal affairs in the best interest of the tribes.  The government acts as guardian to each of the tribes who are considered wards.

Guardian – someone who has the legal authority & duty to care for another’s person or property, especially because of the other’s infancy, incapacity, or disability.

Ward – a person, usually a minor, who is under a guardian’s charge or protection.

     Much as a parent owns and manages the estates of their children, a guardian owns and manages the estate of a ward so as to act in the child’s best interest.

     In addition to serving the roles of fiduciary and guardian, the federal government also serves as trustee.

Trustee – someone with legal title to property that holds it in trust, with duties to convert to cash all debts and securities that are not qualified legal investments, to reinvest the cash in proper securities, to protect & preserve the trust property, and to ensure that it is employed solely for the beneficiary.

Settlor – someone who makes a settlement of property; especially one who sets up a trust.

  • Trust – a property interest held by one person (the trustee) at the request of another (the settlor) for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary).

Indian country – all land within the borders of any Indian reservation together with the land occupied by any Indian community not on a reservation.

  • Indian land – land owned by the United States but held in trust for & used by the American Indians.
  • Tribal Land – any part of an Indian reservation not allotted to or occupied by individual Indians but instead held in common by tribal members.

Indian title – a right of occupancy, constituting possession rather than ownership, that the federal government grants to an American Indian tribe based on the tribe’s immemorial possession of the area.  aka aboriginal title.

Indian Reservation – an area that the federal government has designated for use by an American Indian tribe, where the tribe generally settles & establishes a tribal government.

  • Indian law – the body of law dealing with American Indian tribes and their relationships to federal & state governments, private citizens, & each other.
  • Tribal Court – a quasi-independent court composed of tribal members, usually situated on a reservation, varying in procedure according to local custom.
  • Tribal-Exhaustion Doctrine – the general principle that when an Indian tribal court has jurisdiction, the parties must pursue all remedies available under tribal law before turning to non-tribal courts.


Map by The Choices Program, Brown University:

Preserved by National Geographic article, “TELLING THANKSGIVING’S STORY IN A VANISHING AMERICAN LANGUAGE” by by  (11-18-2015):

Political Associations:

 The Haudenosaunee Confederacy – northeastern tribes including the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora: “The People of the Longhouse.”



Map of Prairies from Midwestern Regional Climate Center, “Living With Weather, Wildfires”:

Source: WikiWand, “Dakota (people)”: Retrieved 8-4-2017. Note: Some names found throughout this map may be spelled according to their Indo-European designation.

“Pre-Contact Trade” map from Encounters at the Heart of the World, A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn. Page 19:




All material utilized in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: All definitions, unless otherwise specified, from Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4


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