Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2009


Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 250.


Copyright 2009 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Deborah Rosen details the historical relationship between states and their American Indian populations. She argues that while states set aside some racist understandings in order to admit Indians into the state populace through voting rights and state citizenship, they also used these same instruments as methods of assimilation to limit tribal sovereignty and citizenship and to take tribal lands.

While there was no question the federal government reserved the right to deal with tribal nations through both the Indian Commerce Clause and the Non Intercourse Acts, states still found some room to determine the political status of individual Indians. Because of the federal government’s focus on the reservation system, which attempted to separate tribes from non-Indians, Indians who did not live on a reservation, or who were not citizens of a treaty tribe occupied an ambiguous legal identity for states. States sometimes used that ambiguity to exercise state jurisdiction and control over them.