Retiring the 'Deadliest Enemies' Model of Tribal-State Relations

16 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2007 Last revised: 26 Jan 2016

Date Written: August 15, 2007


State governments have long been described as the "deadliest enemies" of Indian people and Indian tribes, even with now-Chief Justice Roberts famously reversing the description in a 1997 Supreme Court brief to describe Indian tribes as the perpetrator - the "dead[ly] enemies" of states. The Constitutional common law rule resulting from this description prevents states from engaging with Indian tribes absent Congressional consent. But this view of tribal-state relations dates back to the first 100 years of American Constitutional jurisprudence and Indian affairs, when states and Indian tribes engaged in oft-horrific and genocidal violence. The "deadliest enemies" model of tribal-state relations has long passed and transformed into political and legal disputes. Outside of litigation, these disputes often are resolved via intergovernmental agreement. However, the bright-line rule resulting from the "deadliest enemies" model operates as a barrier to the development of peaceable tribal-state relationships. This short Essay argues for the retirement of the "deadliest enemies" model.

Keywords: indian law, federalism, intergovernmental agreement, John G. Roberts, kagama

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Matthew L. M., Retiring the 'Deadliest Enemies' Model of Tribal-State Relations (August 15, 2007). 43 Tulsa Law Review 73 (2007), MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-03 , Available at SSRN: or

Matthew L. M. Fletcher (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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