angela riley on indian lands in the US supreme court


Angela Riley, ‘Native American Lands and the Supreme Court’, Journal of Supreme Court History 38 (2013).

The Supreme Court has been instrumental in defining legal rights and obligations pertaining to Indian lands since its first path-making decision in the field in Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823. But the groundwork for the Court’s contemplation of such cases predates Supreme Court jurisprudence, and it in fact predates the formation of the Court and the United States itself.

When Europeans first made contact with this continent, they encountered hundreds of indigenous, sovereign nations representing enormous diversity in terms of language, culture, religion, and governance. For those indigenous groups — as is a common attribute of indignity of similarly situated indigenous groups around the world — this land was and is holy land. Indigenous creation stories root Indian people in this continent — Turtle Island to many — as the focal point of life, creation, religion, culture, and language. In the settlement of the country, the colonial powers initially — and the United States subsequently — treated with Indian nations to negotiate the transfer of lands from Indians to Europeans, often in exchange for peace or protection.


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