A common theme in all three chapters of The Rights of Indians and Tribes this week was the tension between the rights of state and federal government in regard to United States Indian policy. In accordance with the decision in Worcester v. Georgia, the relationship between Indians and the United States government has been almost entirely through the federal government: in Worcester, the court ruled that state laws could not be enforced in Indian territory unless explicit consent has been given by congress, and treaties have historically been crafted between tribe and federal governments. However, it seems that over time the federal government has given states more and more authority over tribes whose reservations lie within their borders. The Dawes act was a large part of this- although it did not give states any power over Indians directly, it gave them authority over much of their land when it became private property. Public Law 280 is another example of federal government giving increased jurisdiction over Indians and Indian territory to state governments. Another issue where this comes into play is in taxation: Pevar writes that although “If a federal law is…ambiguous… it must be ‘construed liberally in favor of the Indians,’ an thus a state’s attempt to tax Indians and tribes without clear congressional consent will fail,” that the supreme court has heard many cases involving state governments defending what they believe is their right to tax reservation Indians and tribes beyond the restrictions put in place by congress (Pevar, 170).
The issue of taxation is especially controversial for several reasons, one being that states would benefit far more than the federal government if they were allowed to tax tribes without the stringent restrictions imposed on them by federal law. Although congress has not always acted in the best interests of Indians and tribes, by severely restricting states’ abilities to tax reservations, although they may lie within the states’ geographical boundaries, the federal government is holding true to their current goal of tribal sovereignty. Many claim that it is unfair that Indians receive so many tax immunities but still have access to the full range of benefits that come with state citizenship. However, in my opinion, these benefits are just part of the treaties that were signed by Indians and the federal government. Tribes have been promised a wide array of benefits and services in return for “giving” their land to the United States, and should not be forced to pay taxes to receive them.