Inequalities Embedded in the United States Legal System Through the Lens of Tribal Governments

Jessica Arthur, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Thesis/Project Completion Date

May, 2011

Committee Chair

Kathleen A. Brown-Perez, UMass Amherst -


Over the past 500 years, American Indians have been subjected to inequalities through the United States legal system as a result of the federal government's jurisdiction in Indian country, thus making tribal governments less powerful in Indian country and further expanding a jurisdictional void. Using scholarly literature accessed through the University of Massachusetts Amherst library database, law reviews, congressional legislation, and Supreme Court holdings this paper examines how the tribal government's power continues to be chipped away by Congress, through jurisdictional decisions and legislation, which develop in favor of the federal government. The three sovereign entities that have jurisdiction in Indian country are the federal government, tribal government, and state governments. However, this judicial framework is complex and depends on the following: location, the crime, who committed the crime (the perpetrator), and whom the crime was committed against (the victim). Therefore, due to criminal jurisdiction in Indian country being based on the political status of American Indians it exemplifies inequalities in the United States legal system. In order to preserve and protect the economic, social, and cultural attributes of American Indians, tribal justice systems need to maintain their power. By taking away power from tribal government and allowing federal and state governments to prosecute crimes, it sends a message that tribal governments lack authority and are inferior to handle certain crimes. More importantly, the basic right of allowing tribal governments to maintain law within their reservations is fundamental to their survival as a community.


Recommended Citation

Arthur, Jessica, "Inequalities Embedded in the United States Legal System Through the Lens of Tribal Governments" (2011). Commonwealth Honors College Theses and Projects. Paper 5.