cover image American Indians and the Law

American Indians and the Law

N. Bruce Duthu, . . Viking, $21.95 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-670-01857-4

Hundreds of Native American tribes are classified as sovereign governments, a murky legal status that this study (part of the Penguin Library of American Indian History) struggles to clarify. Duthu, a law professor and member of the Houma tribe, reviews statute and case law on tribal sovereignty, especially recent Supreme Court decisions that are at odds with Congress’s modern friendliness toward tribal “self-determination.” His dense, dry survey explores such topics as tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians living on reservations, tribal natural resources and environmental policy, adoption law for Indian children and the perennial wrangling between tribal and state governments over taxes, regulation and gambling. Roiling these issues are two conflicts: the clash between tribal sovereignty and congressional power to legislate on Indian affairs, and the tension between tribal group rights and individual rights. Duthu’s sympathies are clear: he dismisses critics of special tribal rights as ignorant and castigates infringements of tribal sovereignty as motivated by neocolonialist views of Indians as a “dying race”; but his focus on legal precedent and convention regarding tribal sovereignty rather than its concrete benefits fails to make a compelling case for the necessity of such sovereignty. (Feb. 4)