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CRM 500-999

677. Indian Country Defined

"Indian country" is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151 as including (1) federal reservations, whether created by statute or Executive Order, see Donnelly v. United States, 228 U.S. 243 (1913), including fee land, see United States v. John, 437 U.S. 634 (1978); Seymour v. Superintendent, 368 U.S. 351 (1962); (2) dependent Indian communities, see Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, 522 U.S. 520 (1998)(land that is neither a reservation nor an allotment which has been validly set aside for the use of the Indians as Indian land, and under the superintendence of the government); and (3) Indian allotments to which title has not been extinguished, see United States v. Pelican, 232 U.S. 442 (1914), and United States v. Ramsey, 271 U.S. 467 (1926). Although not specifically mentioned in section 1151, land held in trust by the United States for a tribe or individual Indian is also accorded Indian country status. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Potawatomi Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. 505 (1991). Acquisition of land in fee by a tribe, despite the restraint on alienation imposed by 25 U.S.C. § 177, has been held insufficient standing alone to create Indian country. Buzzard v. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n, 992 F.2d 1073 (10th Cir. 1993). Indian country status is not lost by cession to, or acquisition by, a state of civil and criminal jurisdiction pursuant to Pub. L. 83-280 ("Public Law 280") or similar act of Congress. See California v. Cabazon Band of Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 207 n.5 and text (1987).

Disputes frequently arise as to whether federal reservation status still attaches to lands that were opened to settlement. The resolution is very complex. See Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U.S. 463 (1984). The assistance of the Field Solicitor of the Department of the Interior should be sought in the first instance.

United States Attorneys should attempt to familiarize themselves with the boundaries of their reservations and off-reservation allotments with the assistance of the Field Solicitor. They should also be aware of the extent to which jurisdiction over all or some of the reservations in their districts has been transferred to the state under Public Law 280 (currently codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1162 and 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321-1326) or similar legislation, see, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 3243 (Kansas), Act of June 30, 1948, ch. 759, 62 Stat. 1161 (Iowa), and 25 U.S.C. § 232 (New York). See this Manual at 688.

[updated May 2001] [cited in JM 9-20.100]