Native Land Law

Federal law concerning Indian and Alaska Native land—and Native nations in general—is terribly unjust and out of keeping with the Constitution and basic American values. Our Native Land Law project is focused on creating a fair and principled framework of law concerning the rights of Native Americans to their lands and resources—a framework consistent with the United States Constitution and Indian treaties, and with American concepts of fairness and modern principles of international human rights law. Our long-term goal is to reform—through political, judicial and administrative processes—the present discriminatory laws affecting Native lands and resources in the United States.

We have written a set of General Legal Principles and supporting Commentaries stating what we believe federal law really is or what it ought to be. These General Principles cover the topics of self-determination, the doctrine of discovery, aboriginal title, the power of the federal government to take Native lands, the plenary power doctrine, and the taxation of tribally held lands. These draft principles form a consistent framework of legal rules that would overcome the truly unfair and discriminatory rules that now are applied to Native nations. We wrote two versions of these Principles and Commentaries: a General Edition, and a Lawyers Edition for those interested in detailed analysis of the law.

With the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the movement for law reform is growing. Many tribal leaders are eager to begin developing strategies for improving the present framework of law. We are pleased with the progress made in 2010. We are consulting with Native tribes and making plans for providing legal assistance to tribes in their efforts to change the law.

In addition to meeting with Indian leaders, we have met with White House staff, the U.S. Department of State, and others to discuss how the federal government can begin to make changes in federal law and policies and how the government can implement the UN Declaration in a meaningful way. We are studying how we can present the Native Land Law Principles and related legal materials to judges and other government officials.

We hope that debate and discussion will in time lead to consensus among Native leaders about the changes they wish to seek in federal law.