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Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Introduction to Tribal Concepts

Sign reading Welcome to the Land of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, The Burnt Thigh Nation, Rosebud, South Dakota

Indian Country Definitions

"Indian country" is a significant legal term that refers to the lands set aside for federally recognized Indian tribes. It includes reservations, fee land within reservation boundaries, dependent Indian communities, Indian allotments, and trust land. Generally, the designation of land as Indian country means that the tribe and the federal government have jurisdictional authority within its boundaries and the states are excluded. There are some very important exceptions to this rule, which are discussed in the jurisdiction section of the Federal Indian Law and Policy module.

Indian country is defined in Title 18 of the United States Code, section 1151 as follows:

  1. All land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the reservation;
  2. All dependent Indian communities within the borders of the United States whether within the original or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and whether within or without the limits of a state; and
  3. All Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including rights-of-way running through the same.



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