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Pritzker Legal Research Center

American Indian Law Resources

A guide to complement Prof. Zimmerman's American Indian Law Course

Extended discussion and research paper components of course

The topics for discussion in this course are set in the syllabus up until the final weeks.  Those final weeks will give the class an opportunity to choose the topics that may interest them.  Similarly, the paper for this course will be written on a topic of American Indian Law that you find interesting.  This page of the research guide is meant to give you a couple of ideas for discussion topics and/or paper topics.  The information on this page will let you know what kind of information is out there on these and other topics.  We've also included a list of other possible topics to consider.

These topics and notes about them are provided by Prof. Zimmerman.

Violence against women

Fishing Rights

Economic development

  • Tie to economic prosperity of some tribes (and conversely not for others)
  • Indian Gaming Act and role of states in entering into compacts with NN for revenue sharing
  • Impact of gaming to tribal communities: contract, tort, employment, taxation law in Indian Country. 
  • Wealth – such as Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux and Potawatomi –impact on regional employment and development
  • Dynamics surrounding Native Nation-state-community relationships

Definition of an Indian


  • Self-governance – generally, institutions, or autonomy in a particular area
  • NAGPRA and Antiquities Act – national monument designation


Criminal jurisdiction

Mille Lacs Reservation 

Red Lake Reservation (MN)

McGirt v. Oklahoma

Reservation diminishment litigation

The following tribes in Region 5 are all involved in active challenges or declaratory judgment suits over their respective reservation boundaries – challenges are between tribe and county; tribe and state; and tribe and village, respectively:

  • Mille Lacs reservation (MN)
  • Little Traverse Bay Band (MI)
  • Oneida (WI)
  • Wind River reservation – case in 10th Circuit was triggered by an EPA determination to authorize “treatment as a state status” to the two NN on that reservation under the Clean Air Act

Land reclamation (where the reservation may have been unlawfully diminished)

  • reestablishment of the reservation and re-recognition of the Menominee tribe in WI
  • return of unsold lands to the diminished Red Lake reservation (MN)

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

  • Great lakes Indian school, later state home for mentally ill, located in Mount Pleasant, MI, whose land was recently sold to local communities (and the Saginaw Chippewa tribe) after the school went defunct.  Many childrens’ graves are part of this property.
  • “Dawnland” PBS special on ICWA

ICWA ruled unconstitutional in Brackeen v. Zinke 

Wild rice in MN

  • Masses of information on the culture, treaty history, and state regulatory framework around this resource which is very hotly contested right now
  • Brings together science, law, economics, culture and politics in one over water quality standard for sulfate

Mining and other development in the ceded territories

Hardrock mining, found throughout the Midwest (MN, MI, and WI) can cause diminishment of treaty resources.  How much can a treaty right be diminished before there is actually harm to the treaty right? 

  • Interactive treaty resource map on GLIFWC’s website
  • Current e.g., recently decided Washington v. U.S.

Open dumping in Indian Country

  • RCRA treats Native Nations as “municipalities” thus not eligible to do the same range of actions that a state can do under RCRA. 
  • Many NN (throughout the US – and especially in AK) have been struggling to deal with solid and hazardous waste issues on reservation lands
  • And there is big problem of open dumping in Indian Country

Disparity of environmental protection inside and outside Indian Country

Many federal programs are intended to be primarily implemented by states while the federal regulations/statute maintains a minimum federal floor.  where tribes cannot regulate and the federal government has not stepped in to provide specifics for these programs in indian country, there may be a disparity of protection between tribal communities and their state counterparts across the reservation border.  relating to this is another unresolved issue, which is. . . (see next box re: border patrol and federal immigration enforcement)

Border patrol and federal immigration enforcement

Tohono O'odham (AZ) provide a good lens into issues as well as international and environmental law implications of Trump's proposed border wall on native and sacred land

Public health/environment

  • Does the calculation of “risk” take into account Native American communities who have greater exposure to hazardous substances because of the nature of the use and/or the quantities of their use of a resource that may be “safely” used by other populations at lesser exposure rates.  This is an issue in establishing water quality standards, superfund cleanup levels, to name just two.  There is ongoing litigation involving EPA and Maine regarding establishing water quality standards that are sufficiently protective of Native American fish consumption rates where an act of congress established state jurisdiction for, among other things, regulatory purposes in Maine Indian Country.  See:
  • Disease on Indian reservations – higher stats for some diseases in Indian Country.  How to set acceptable standards?
  • Climate change

Siting of hazardous waste facilities in Indian Country

Indian communities may choose to host hazardous waste storage facilities on their lands for economic reasons, or sometimes such sites are located in Indian Country because of a ‘not in my backyard’ view of non-Indians.  Examples include radioactive waste and the Goshute Indian reservation; radioactive/uranium mining issues at Navajo reservation; a nuclear reactor sited adjacent to the Prairie Island Indian community (MN).


  • Energy development in Indian Country – coal, uranium, natural gas
  • Fracking?

Treaty Enforcement, Lack of