American Indians and Alaskan natives occupy an odd legal space: they're simultaneously U.S. citizens and citizens of their tribes, which are considered separate nations. While Native Americans are protected under the same federal civil rights laws as other U.S. citizens, the enforcement of these rights is complicated by this form of almost dual citizenship. Below, you'll find explanations of American Indians' rights under both the federal and tribal systems.
Native Americans' Civil Rights and the U.S. Government
As U.S. Citizens, American Indians are protected by the Bill of Rights, anti-discrimination laws, and all other statutes protecting the rights of American citizens. These rights include:
In addition, Native American citizens have a specially protected right to religious freedom under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The Act provides that Native American citizens must have access to sacred sites and may use drugs, such as peyote, in religious ceremonies. In addition, sacred artifacts must be removed from museums and repatriated if possible.
Native Americans' Civil Rights and Tribal Governments
Although the Constitution and U.S. anti-discrimination laws provide Native Americans protection against many different kinds of civil rights abuses, they were created without Native American representation and did not apply to tribal governments. Since tribal governments did not always have reliable court systems, many Native Americans were left without an effective means to enforce their own civil rights. As a result, in 1968, Congress created the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) which listed several rights that tribal governments must respect, including:
However, unlike with other federal civil rights laws, the Department of Justice has little authority to enforce the provisions of the ICRA over tribal governments. Consequently, tribal governments are free to make their own laws that have the practical effect of limiting these rights.
Contact an Experienced Native Peoples Law Attorney
Have you been discriminated against in housing, employment, or lending? Or suffered any kind of civil rights violation? Are you unsure how your rights as an Alaska Native or Native American affect enforcing the violations? If you need help, then contact an experienced Native Peoples attorney, that is aware of the complexities of this unique legal position. An attorney can assist you in the right direction for your potential claim.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.