Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution

Feb 15th, 2011 | By | Category: 22-3: Food Sovereignty, Spring 2011, Media Reviews

By Frank Pommersheim
Oxford University Press (2009)

Review by Michael W. Simpson

In a previous book, Braid of Feathers: American Indian Law and Contemporary Tribal Life (1995), Frank Pommersheim provided an inside-out view of federal Indian law. In Broken Landscapes, he provides an outside-in look at what has gone wrong within federal Indian law at the national level because of failures by the Congress and the Supreme Court.

Pommersheim provides a wonderfully readable history about the development of law regarding Indians and Indian tribes. The three parts (Early Encounter, Individual Indians and the Constitution, and The Modern Encounter) help the reader understand his basic argument that the Constitution needs to be amended to protect tribal sovereignty.

The author notes that tribes were initially positioned outside of the Constitution by the Indian Commerce Clause, which empowered Congress to regulate commerce with tribes and the treaty clause. These have been increasingly ignored with a federal common law becoming dominant that checks assertive sovereignty of tribes. The author does a good job of highlighting the new Supreme Court assertion of plenary power.

This book invites the people and institutions of the United States into a dialogue that can openly and honestly examine the past, not to be bound by it but to forge a new era of dignity and respect for tribes and tribal people. The book is highly recommended for tribal college libraries and courses.

Michael W. Simpson, J.D., M.Ed. is completing a Ph.D. in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. He offers nationwide workshops on linguistic- based discourse analysis of school textbooks. He may be reached at

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