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Original Understanding of the Political Status of Indian Tribes

29 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2007 Last revised: 25 Jan 2016

Matthew L. M. Fletcher

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: 2008


This Article will demonstrate that virtually all elements of Indian affairs can be traced to the decision of the United States to recognize Indian tribes as political entities and to make Indian law and policy based on the political status of Indian tribes. Indian law is often assumed to be race law. As a result, observers tend to try to force Indian law into the constitutional race law paradigm. Justice Blackmun's footnote 24 in Morton v. Mancari - describing federal legislation and rules relating to Indian tribes as a political classification - hit upon the proper understanding of Indian law. The implementation of the rule of Johnson v. M'Intosh, Indian treaties, and Acts of the First Congress offers significant evidence that the original understanding of the Founders was that Indian tribes and the federal government enjoy a political relationship, not racial.

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Matthew L. M., Original Understanding of the Political Status of Indian Tribes (2008). 82 St. John's Law Review 153 (2008); Michigan State University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 04-20 . Available at SSRN:

Matthew L. M. Fletcher (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

648 N. Shaw
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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