Publication Title

Washington Law Review


Indian country, jurisdiction, Public Law 280

Document Type



This Article canvasses the jurisdictional rules applicable in American Indian tribal territories-"Indian country." The focus is on a federal law passed in the 1950s, which granted some states a measure of jurisdiction over Indian country without tribal consent. The law is an aberration. Since the adoption of the Constitution, federal law preempted state authority over Indians in their territory. The federal law permitting some state jurisdiction, Public Law 280, is a relic of a policy repudiated by every President and Congress since 1970. States have authority to surrender, or retrocede, the authority granted by Public Law 280, but Indian tribal governments should be allowed to determine whether and when state jurisdiction should be limited or removed.

This Article reviews the legal history of federal-tribal-state relations in the context of Public Law 280 jurisdiction. Washington State has recently taken progressive steps that could serve as the foundation for a national model to remove state jurisdiction as a tribal option. The modem Indian self-determination policy is not advanced by adherence to termination era experiments like Public Law 280. The Article concludes that federal legislation should provide for a tribally-driven retrocession model and makes proposals to that end.



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