Race and American Indian Tribal Nationhood

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Modern American Indian nations face a racial paradox. On one hand, the citizenry of Indian nations is almost exclusively based in race, ethnicity, and ancestry. Indian nations would not be “Indian” without this basis. But American constitutional principles dictate that laws based on racial, ethnic, or ancestral classifications are highly disfavored. For Indian nations, this means that Indian governments have virtually no authority to regulate the activities of the non-Indian citizens that live amongst Indian communities. This paper offers a long-term solution to this conundrum, a solution that requires Indian nations and American courts and policymakers to modernize understandings about American Indian tribal nationhood. American Indian law and policy forced Indian nations into a legal status akin to “domestic racial nations.” By tweaking Indian citizenship requirements, and recognizing the national character of modern Indian nations, modern Indian nations should more properly be understood as simply “domestic nations,” much like Monaco and The Vatican.


Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty.