Welcome to the Indian Resources Section (IRS)
The Indian Resources Section litigates to protect almost 60 million acres of lands held in trust for tribes and individual Indian lands, as well as the rights and resources associated with those lands. The Section also defends challenges to decisions made by the Secretary of the Interior on behalf of tribes. This litigation often involves complex historical disputes, some of which date back to the early days of our Nation.
On May 27, 1974, Attorney General Edward H. Levi created the Indian Resources Section, providing it with primary “responsibility for trial court litigation of suits in which the United States is asserting rights to water, title to property, hunting and fishing rights and other natural resource interests of Indians and Indian Tribes.” Prior to the creation of the Indian Resources Section, the General Litigation (now Natural Resources) Section, which litigated to protect all federal lands and resources, also protected Indian lands. The newly created litigating Section, according to then-Assistant Attorney General Wallace H. Johnson, would “enable the federal government to better focus on the protection of all natural resource interests [belonging to Indians] including land, water, hunting and fishing rights.”
Although the Indian Resources Section is relatively small, its cases concern vast amounts of land and resources and important principles of tribal sovereignty and identity. These cases fall into the following four broad categories:
- The scope of tribal lands and jurisdiction;
- Treaty hunting and fishing rights;
- Water rights adjudication; and
- The defense of agency action in furtherance of tribal interests.
This broad docket encompasses issues of regional and national importance. See below for additional information on the categories of cases we litigate and related examples. We also include an interactive timeline that gives examples of the broad nature of our work and provides important developments in Indian law and policy both before and after the creation of the Section.