Felix S Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law: The Scope of Tribal Self-Government

Chapter 7: The Scope of Tribal Self-Government

Indian self-government is the only alternative to rule by a government dept and administrative oppression. The decided cases hold that Indian self-government includes the power of an Indian tribe to adopt and operate under a form of government of the Indians' choosing, to define conditions of membership, to regulate domestic relations of members, to prescribe rules of inheritance, to levy taxes, to regulate property within the jurisdiction of the tribe, to control the conduct of members by municipal legislation, and to administer justice.

The most basic principle of all Indian Law is the principle that those powers which are lawfully vested in an Indian tribe are not, in general, delegated powers granted by express acts of congress, but rather inherent powers of a limited sovereignty which has never been extinguished. Each Indian tribe begins its relationship with the federal government as a sovereign power, recognized as such in treaty and legislation. This power has been limited by special treaties and laws. These statutes must be examined to determine the limitations of tribal sovereignty rather than to determine its sources or its positive content. What is not expressly limited remains within the domain of tribal sovereignty. These acts are not to be extended by doubtful inference.

Also see: Getches & Wilkinson, Federal Indian Law, Tribal Governments as Independent Sovereigns

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