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Native American Rights

Tribal Sovereignty, Treaty Rights, Reserved Rights Doctrine, Federal Power Over Native American Rights, Hunting And Fishing Rights

In the United States, persons of Native American descent occupy a unique legal position. On the one hand, they are U.S. citizens and are entitled to the same legal rights and protections under the Constitution that all other U.S. citizens enjoy. On the other hand, they are members of self-governing tribes whose existence far predates the arrival of Europeans on American shores. They are the descendants of peoples who had their own inherent rights—rights that required no validation or legitimation from the newcomers who found their way onto their soil.

These combined, and in many ways conflicting, legal positions have resulted in a complex relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. Although the historic events and specific details of each tribe's situation vary considerably, the legal rights and status maintained by Native Americans are the result of their shared history of wrestling with the U.S. government over such issues as tribal sovereignty, shifting government policies, treaties that were made and often broken, and conflicting latter-day interpretations of those treaties. The result today is that although Native Americans enjoy the same legal rights as every other U.S. citizen, they also retain unique rights in such areas as hunting and fishing, water use, and GAMING operations. In general, these rights are based on the legal foundations of tribal sovereignty, treaty provisions, and the "reserved rights" doctrine, which holds that Native Americans retain all rights not explicitly abrogated in treaties or other legislation.

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