Congress, Tribal Recognition, and Legislative-Administrative Multiplicity

69 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2015 Last revised: 4 Oct 2016

Date Written: June 16, 2016


For over thirty years, tribal leaders, state officials, members of Congress, and scholars have decried the process by which the United States recognizes Indian tribes. Most accounts have focused exclusively on the administrative process, omitting Congress from their analyses and suggesting that Congress plays a minor role in tribal recognition. The widely-accepted proposition that Congress has relinquished control over recognition is a testable hypothesis. This article tests this proposition empirically. The results call into question the dominant narrative about the congressional role in federal recognition and show that it is just plain wrong. In addition to debunking prevailing misconceptions, the data exposes an intriguing puzzle — a more complicated tale of legislative-administrative multiplicity. Federal recognition is not a uniform administrative process. Instead, parallel legislative and administrative processes exist and often intersect in complex ways. This discovery is an important first step towards understanding these dual processes and their implications for federal Indian law and understandings of legislative-administrative relationships more generally.

Suggested Citation

Carlson, Kirsten Matoy, Congress, Tribal Recognition, and Legislative-Administrative Multiplicity (June 16, 2016). 91 Indiana Law Journal 955 (2016), Available at SSRN: or

Kirsten Matoy Carlson (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics