Looking to the East: The Stories of modern Indian People and the Development of Tribal Law

Document Type


Publication Date



Tribal sovereignty is a story told by tribal leaders and advocates for decades to federal and state governments and courts. This story has led to significant political and economic gains for Indian people, but the story is getting old. While the pre-contact Indian communities relied upon storytelling to communicate important social norms, the conquest of Indian nations eviscerated that capacity. Indian people, in order to preserve the right to legal self-determination, must restore their own unique customs and traditions and incorporate those elements into modern tribal law. This paper analyzes four short stories by the renowned Spokane-Coeur d'Alene author, Sherman Alexie, stories about modern Indian people living in a world dominated by non-Indian culture and government. The paper highlights areas where new stories may inform tribal government choices as to tribal law and policy, including tribal membership and cultural property. Tribal law and sovereignty cannot exist in the long-term without reference to and a direct connection to the new stories of Indian people living today.


Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty.