Legal Limits: Four books, each with a weakness, explore tribal law and government

Aug 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-2: Spirituality, Media Reviews

Review by Greg Gagnon, Oglala Lakota College

A major problem faced by teachers of tribal government is the absence of a textbook which meets the needs of beginning students.

I have faced this prob­lem as I teach a course at Oglala Lakota College entitled: Tribal Law, Treaties and Government. Our college wants all of our students to learn the basic traditional, federal and tribal foundations of contemporary tribal gov­ernment. Unfortunately, there are flaws in the existing materials for this course. My colleagues at other tribal colleges feel the same frustration.

The best sources of introductory level infor­mation about tribal gov­ernment and the federal relationship are available from the Institute for the Development of Indian Law. Publications like Indian Treaties (1988) are written at an appropriate level for beginning stu­dents but one needs to assign four or five of their publications and they are fifteen years old. They do not provide enough infor­mation on tribal govern­ments.

Charles Wilkinson has provided American Indians, Time and the Law (1987) but its sophistica­tion poses background problems for beginning students. Faculty members and advanced students need works like Wilkinson’s and The American Indian Law Review; beginning stu­dents are overwhelmed by them. Felix Cohen’s Handbook of Indian Law is only a reference work.

Sharon O’Brien offers the best study of tribal gov­ernments at this point. American Indian Tribal Governments (1989) pro­vides an overview of the trust relationship, treaty rights, truncated case stud­ies of representative tribal governments and a good description of state-tribal government relationships. Now that O’Brien’s text is available in paperback, it is affordable. It’s only weakness is that the beginning students need to have knowledge if the United States governmental instiutions.  O’Brien’s work is descriptive rather than analytical.

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