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Federal Indian Policy and Law (PLS/NAS/AMS 335)


INSTRUCTOR:           Dr. Richard Witmer

OFFICE/PHONE:       x2869                                         


OFFICE:                     Admin 424A




            Federal Indian Policy and Law examines the development of the political and policy relationship between American Indian Nations and the United States government using a political, social, economic and cultural context.  During the semester we examine the development of the relationship American Indians and Tribal governments have with Congress, the Executive Branch and state governments.  While a historical perspective is integrated into the semester, we will primarily focus on the current era of tribal/federal and tribal/state policy and law.  This includes issues of sovereignty, gaming/economic development, political participation and the compacting system.


COURSE OBJECTIVES: At the end of the course students will be able to:

A. Understand the development of the policy and political relationship between American Indian Tribal Governments and federal and state governments.

B. Identify the current issues facing tribal/federal and tribal/state relations and the strengths and weaknesses of arguments on each side of these issues.

C. Compare the current era of Forced Federalism (1988-present) with prior eras of tribal/federal policy.

D. Identify an area of particular interest in tribal/federal and tribal/state relations and report in depth on that issue.

E. Explain and understand how and why individual tribal governments differ in their relationship with federal and state governments



Canby, William. 2004. American Indian Law in a Nutshell 4th ed. West Group Pub.

Prucha, Francis Paul. 1986. The Great Father. Univ of Nebraska Press.

Wilkins, David. 2002. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. Rowman and Littlefield publishers.



Other reading requirements

1. Selected Journal Articles and Book Chapters are required and will be posted on the course site on blackboard. These articles will provide theoretical depth and understanding to the topics covered in the course and are drawn from the important writings on American Indian policy and law.  You are required to read these articles, print or take notes and come to class prepared to engage in discussion about these readings.

2. You must keep up to date with what is happening in government and politics. You may subscribe to a newspaper or read news online.  The New York Times and Washington Post are excellent sources. In addition, I recommend that you peruse Indian Country Today, available in the library. It is an excellent source of information on American Indian political and social issues. Local newspapers, while excellent sources of local and regional news often do not cover American Government in the detail necessary for our discussions.



Two basic requirements for the class should go without saying, but I mention them just in case. First, you must read all of the assigned readings as outlined in the syllabus. It is imperative that you read the material prior to class. I remind you that exam questions will come from the lecture and readings. We will not necessarily cover all of the readings in class, but you are responsible for knowing the material required on the syllabus. Occasional, unannounced quizzes on the material should be expected.

            A second requirement is attendance.  The class uses a discussion/lecture format with the readings as background.  If you miss class you will miss how the readings are important to an understanding of the readings. I do not lend out my notes and it is often difficult to fully understand the information without attending class.  Finally, I will take roll on occasion.  



The requirements for the course are three exams and a final paper. The exams will include all of the information in that section of the course. The final paper will count as the final exam. Do note that the paper requires you to integrate information from throughout the class.  The first exam will count for 22% of your grade, the second 22% and the third exam will count for 23% of the grade. The final paper is 23% of your grade, including your presentation. The final 10% is attendance/participation/quiz scores.  Format for the exams will be a combination of short answers and essay. 

I will post on Blackboard a sheet that outlines the paper assignment in detail. Briefly, the assignment will require you to select a contemporary American Indian policy issue and become the expert on this policy.  You will write a 15-20 page paper and make a 20 minute presentation in class on the topic. The instructor and student will coordinate student interest and applicability to determine the topic. I encourage you to discuss your interests with me early in the semester, as only one student will address each topic. Do note the academic honesty policy below as you are required to fully cite your research paper.  I will post information on citations for political science on blackboard.



            The University Bulletin defines academic dishonesty as “engaging in any conduct which is intended or reasonably likely to confer upon oneself or another an unfair advantage or unfair benefit respecting an academic matter.”   Any attempt to pass off another person’s work as your own constitutes plagiarism, and will be treated as a violation of the University’s policy on academic honesty.   To avoid any inference of academic dishonesty, you must give full attribution (i.e., footnotes or other citations) to any assistance you received while preparing your paper--whether printed, human, electronic, or extraterrestrial. It also applies to materials available on the Web or through other computer facilities.  Both quoted and paraphrased material should be cited, and credit given to ideas you received from readings or discussions. In effect, cite everything that is not an original thought. The failure to give credit where credit is due constitutes academic dishonesty and will result in a zero grade on the offending paper, with no opportunity to make it up.  Infringements of University Academic Honesty standards will be handled according to the Academic dishonesty procedures outlined in the Student Handbook.  College procedures for dealing with academic dishonesty are available at:


Course Outline:

There are three parts of the course this semester.

The first focuses on the policy background and legal developments over time.  This is extremely important for us to understand the changing eras of Indian/federal policy and law and how ideas/theories shaped the policy and legal process.

The second focuses on the contemporary policy and legal environment.  Here we focus on a number of central policy and legal issues currently facing the American Indian community including sovereignty, tribal governments, economic development and political participation.

The third part of the course is an opportunity for you to examine an area of interest in American Indian policy and law.  You are required to do original research on a topic and present you findings to the class and in a research paper.  The requirements for this are outlined below.



Course Schedule:

            Note that Instructor reserves the right to alter the schedule as necessary during the semester.  Additional Assigned Readings will be announced in class and posted on Blackboard.


Date                Topic                                                   Assigned Reading for Class


Week 1

1/12                 Introduction to the Course                    Syllabus

1/14                 American Indian Politics intro    Wilkins (AIP) intro & chpt 1


Week 2

1/17                 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Blackboard: Johnson, et al.  

1/19                 American Indian Law    intro                 Canby  (AIL) Chapter 1

1/21                 Federal Indian Policy and Law  Prucha (TGF) prologue

                        (Discovery)                                          Blackboard: Getches et al.


Week 3

1/24                 FIPAL early formative years                 TGF chpt 1& 2 AIL pp10-13

1/26                 Early Policy Decisions:              TGF chpt 3& 4 AIL pp 13-18

Cherokee Cases and removal

1/28                 Early Policy Decisions:              TGF chpt 5,6,7 &AIL pp18-20

                        Removal and Reservations


Week 4

1/31                 Early Policy Decisions:              TGF chpt (8,9),10,(11),

                        Peace Policy and Treaties                     AIL 6

2/2                   Early Policy Decisions:              TGF chpt  12,13,14,15

                        Allotment                                              AIL pp 20-23

2/4                   Early Policy Decisions:              TGF chpt (16-17),18,19,20

                        Assimilation’s failure    


Week 5

2/7                   The Recent Past:                                   TGF 21,22       AIL pp 23-25             

                        Indian New Deal

2/9                   Termination                                          TGF 23            AIL pp 25-28, chpt  7

2/11                 A New Day                                          TGF 24


Week 6

2/14                 Contemporary Policy:                           TGF 25            AIL pp 29-32


2/16                 Exam 1

2/18                 Comparing US and                               Blackboard: Barsh, Nature and Spirit of North

                        Tribal Governments                                                      American Political Systems.

                                                                                    Blackboard: Navajo Political Experience


Week 7

2/21-2/23         Indian Peoples are Nations,                  AIP 2

                        not minorities

2/25                 Rights of Indians and Indian Lands        AIL 11, 12                              


Week 8

2/28-3/2           Actors in Indian Policy              AIP 3,  AIL 3

3/4                   Contemporary Tribal Governments       In-class web assignment


Week 9


Spring Break no class 3/7-3/11


Week 10

3/14-3/16         Indian Tribal Governments                    AIP 5, AIL 4

                                                                                    Blackboard: O’Brien reading

3/18                 Indian Tribal Sovereignty                      AIL 5

                                                                                    Blackboard: Churchill


Week 11

3/21                 Review and wrap up

3/23                 Exam 2

3/25                 No Class Easter Break


Week 12

3/28                 No Class Easter Break

3/30                 Tribal Political Economy                       AIP 6

4/1                   Traditional American Indian                  Blackboard: Trosper

                        Economic Policy                                   Blackboard: Anders


Week 13

4/4                   Indian Gaming                          Blackboard: Mason Indian Gaming

4/6                   Indian Gaming Cont.                             AIL 10

4/8                   No Class MWPSA


Week 14

4/11                  Gaming and Political Participation         AIP 7,8

Blackboard: Witmer and Boehmke

4/13                 Indian Images                                       AIP 9

4/15                 Review and Wrap-up                           AIP 10


Week 15

4/18     Exam 3           

4/20     Student Presentations   

4/22     Student Presentations   


Week 16

4/25     Student Presentations                                       

4/27     Student Presentations

4/29     Student Presentations               




Final Exam

5/4                   10am                           Final Papers Due

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