Native American Law and Legal Definition

The term "Native Americans" or "Indians" refers to Eskimos, Aleuts, and native North Americans. An Indian tribe is a body of Indians of the same or similar race united in a community under one leadership or government, and inhabiting a particular territory. The term "tribe" varies from statute to statute and is sometimes used interchangeably with "nation" or "subtribe."

Indian tribes are subordinate and dependent nations, protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The power of the tribe to determine its own form of government includes the power to interpret its own laws and ordinances; such interpretations will ordinarily be followed by the courts and other government agencies. Since many tribes are trying to learn more about procedures in non-Indian society, tribal delegates and leaders frequently try to conform to the current practices in state, local and federal governments. In fact, many tribes have adopted as the laws of their tribe many state statutes, such as laws governing marriage.An Indian tribe may tax its own members and non-members doing business within the reservation. Some tribal laws are subject to approval or review first by the superintendent, and then if he approves, by the Secretary of the Interior. There are numerous federal statutes dealing with Indian rights and governance, such as the Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Civil Rights Act (also known as the Indian Bill of Rights). 28 U.S.C. § 1360 deals with state civil jurisdiction in actions in which Indians are parties.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines a Native American as follows:

American Indian and Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.