Indian Wars: Old and New

31 Pages Posted: 13 May 2011 Last revised: 26 Jan 2016

See all articles by Matthew L. M. Fletcher

Matthew L. M. Fletcher

University of Michigan Law School

Peter S. Vicaire

VA - Office of Tribal Government Relations

Date Written: May 4, 2011


This short paper analyzes American history from the modern “wars” on poverty, drugs, and terror from the perspective of American Indians and Indian tribes. These domestic “wars” are aptly named (it turns out), as the United States often blindly pursues broad policy goals without input from tribal interests, and without consideration to the impacts on Indians and tribes. With the possible exception of the “war on poverty,” these domestic wars sweep aside tribal rights, rights that are frequently in conflict with the overarching federal policy goals.

This essay explores three declared domestic wars, and their impacts on American Indian tribes and individual Indians, in loose chronological order, starting with the war on poverty. As Part 1 demonstrates, the Johnson Administration’s Great Society programs helped to bring American Indian policy out of the dark ages of the era of termination, in which Congress had declared that national policy would be to terminate the trust relationship. Part 2 describes the war on drugs, declared by the Reagan Administration, which had unusually stark impacts on reservation communities both in terms of law enforcement, but also on American Indian religious freedom. Part 3 examines the ongoing war on terror, which Bush Administration officials opined has its legal justification grounded in part on the Indian wars of the 19th century. The war on terror marks America’s return to fighting a new Indian war, where the adversary is illusive and motivated, and where the rule of law is literally obliterated.

Keywords: war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror, Osama bin Laden, Geronimo, Indian tribes, American Indians, drug testing, military commissions, Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, American Indian religious freedom, Employment Division v. Smith, Great Society, Indian self-determination

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Matthew L. M. and Vicaire, Peter S., Indian Wars: Old and New (May 4, 2011). 15 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 201 (2012), MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-11, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew L. M. Fletcher (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

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Peter S. Vicaire

VA - Office of Tribal Government Relations ( email )

810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420
United States

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