Legal Term Definitions pertaining to Indian Country § 1:

     This page is continued from Indian Country Law:


     The below legal terms are followed by summary definitions.  Click any of the following titles to view the full definitions; this page will remain open.

American Indian tribe – a definable group characterized by sociological, cultural, and familial links residing on one reservation.  aka federally-recognized tribe.  section includes definitions for tribe; Indian; Indian chiefIndian bandIndian nationIndian maizeIndian war.

  • treaty – a contract formally signed, ratified, or adhered to between two countries or sovereigns, or a contract between two or more states that is governed by international law.  Section includes definitions for treaty powerIndian treatytreaty trader.
  • reservation – a country’s formal declaration, upon signing or ratifying a treaty, that it becomes party to the treaty conditioned on the modification or amendment of one or more provisions of the treaty as applied in its relations with the other parties to the treaty.

fiduciary relationship – where one person is under a duty to act with a high degree of care (the fiduciary) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary) on matters within the scope of the relationship.

     Within the fiduciary relationship between each American Indian tribe and the U.S. federal government, the government, as fiduciary, must manage tribal affairs in the best interest of the tribes, who are the beneficiaries of the relationship.

fiduciary – someone who owes to another the duties of good faith, loyalty, due care, & disclosure in managing another’s money or property.

beneficiary – someone who is designated to receive something as a result of a legal arrangement or instrument.

     There is more than one type of fiduciary relationship between the federal government and tribes.  There is a guardian-ward relationship, wherein the government acts as guardian to each of the tribes, who are considered wards.

guardian – someone who has the legal authority & duty to care for another’s person or property, especially because of the other’s infancy, incapacity, or disability.

ward – a person, usually a minor, who is under a guardian’s charge or protection.

     Much as a parent owns and manages the estates of their children, a guardian owns and manages the estate of a ward so as to act in the child’s best interest.

     In addition to serving the roles of fiduciary and guardian, the federal government also serves as trustee within a settlor-trustee-beneficiary relationship.

trustee – someone with legal title to property that holds it in trust, with duties to convert to cash all debts and securities that are not qualified legal investments, to reinvest the cash in proper securities, to protect & preserve the trust property, and to ensure that it is employed solely for the beneficiary.

settlor – someone who makes a settlement of property; especially one who sets up a trust.

  • trust – a property interest held by one person (the trustee) at the request of another (the settlor) for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary).

Additional Related Terms:

Indian country – all land within the borders of any Indian reservation together with the land occupied by any Indian community not on a reservation.

  • Indian land – land owned by the United States but held in trust for & used by the American Indians.
  • tribal land – any part of an Indian reservation not allotted to or occupied by individual Indians but instead held in common by tribal members.
  • Indian allotment – a conveyance of land by the U.S. to an individual Indian or to a tribe, the title of which is held in trust by the U.S.

Indian title – a right of occupancy, constituting possession rather than ownership, that the federal government grants to an American Indian tribe based on the tribe’s immemorial possession of the area. — aka aboriginal title.

Indian reservation – an area that the federal government has designated for use by an American Indian tribe, where the tribe generally settles & establishes a tribal government.

  • Indian law – the body of law dealing with American Indian tribes and their relationships to federal & state governments, private citizens, & each other.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs – a unit in the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for helping Indian and Alaskan native people manage their affairs under the trust relationship with the U.S. and for promoting programs for their benefit.
  • Indian marriage, adoption, and divorce – subject to local laws and established customs.
  • tribal court – a quasi-independent court composed of tribal members, usually situated on a reservation, varying in procedure according to local custom.
  • Tribal-Exhaustion Doctrine – the general principle that when an Indian tribal court has jurisdiction, the parties must pursue all remedies available under tribal law before turning to non-tribal courts. 

commerce with the Indian Tribes – governed by a separate set of laws known as Admiralty[1]


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