PL 83-280 Introduction

Historically, Indian territories were generally deemed beyond the legislative and judicial jurisdiction of the state governments ... The pre-existing federal restrictions on state jurisdiction over Indian country were largely eliminated, however, in 1953 with Congress' enactment of the Act of Aug. 15, 1953 ... which is commonly known as Pub. L. 280.
Public Law 280 gave federal consent to the assumption of state civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian country and provided the procedures by which such an assumption could be made.

PL 280 Applied

Public Law 280 (PL 280) impacts over half of all federally recognized Indian Tribes in the lower 48 states. In 1953, through the enactment of PL 280, the United States Congress clearly manifested their intention of transferring specific federal responsibility over to several of the states.
Yet, even with Congress' clear intent on wanting to transfer jurisdiction, the actual verbiage of PL 280 in poorly written and "admittedly ambiguous."

Concurrent Jurisdictions

The powers of Indian tribes, "powers of local self-government which have never been terminated by law or waived by treaty," remain intact -- even if a tribe is not currently exercising their full jurisdictional powers.
Public Law 280 did not divest the Indian tribes of their concurrent jurisdictional authority. The United States Congress, through PL 280, federally authorized state jurisdiction within a limited scope of authority and for specific purposes.

Tribal Sovereignty

The indigenous tribal nations, which predate the United States of America by a long shot, had their own communities and governments for as far back as anyone can remember. A tribe's sovereignty has never been given to them by the government. No federal law created a Indian tribe's power to govern themselves. The various treaties, agreements and statutes the U.S. government made with, or regarding Indians, have simply recognized the fact that Indian tribes already had this inherent power/sovereignty.


Understanding tribal sovereignty is crucial to also understanding Public Law 280 (and Indian law in general). Tribal sovereignty is the basis for a tribe's political relationship with the United States. This is referred to as a Tribe's government-to-government relationship.
A Tribe's government-to-government relationship is not based on individual ethnicity. Rather, it is based on actual historical dealings between the United States government and Indian Tribes. Tribal governments represent their communities, who collectively share a form of government, culture, tradition and values.

Limited Sovereignty

"Each Indian tribe begins its relationship with the Federal Government as a sovereign power, recognized as such in treaty and legislation.
The powers of sovereignty have been limited from time to time by special treaties and laws . . . "
"Powers of lndian Tribes", U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor, 1934


The Violence Against Women Act (V.A.W.A.)  is not exclusive to Native American women, yet it is inclusive. When V.A.W.A. was reauthorized in 2005, Title IX - Safety for Indian Women was added. This section specifically acknowledged the unique needs of tribal communities and the challenges facing Native American women. Title IX listed six Congressional findings.
An important provision within V.A.W.A. is its Full Faith and Credit section. This provision essentially directs all states, Indian tribes and U.S. territories to honor each others' protection orders as if the order was their own.


There have been mixed feelings about the Indian Civil Rights Act (I.C.R.A.) since its inception. On one hand, it exposed abuses that had taken place and it sought to protect an individual's right without undermining a tribal government's power to be self-governing. Yet, many saw the I.C.R.A. as an intrusion by the federal government into matters tribes hold sacred - their tribal cultures and ways. Indeed, the I.C.R.A. gave federal courts the authority, through writ of habeas corpus, to arbitrate regarding internal affairs of a tribe.


The Indian Child Welfare Act (l.C.W.A.) is an extremely important piece of legislation to tribal communities. I.C.W.A. was enacted in response to a very real threat tribal communities faced - the loss of their children.
The taking of Indian children from their families and familiar surroundings to place them in far-away boarding schools began in the late 1870's and continued for decades. These government sanctioned boarding schools were guided by the philosophy of assimilation. A man named Richard Pratt founded the first Indian boarding school in 1879, seeing the boarding school system as an instrument to "kill the Indian ... save the man."

Understanding Jurisdiction

Written for: TRIBAL COMMUNITIES: Tribal Councils, Tribal Membership, Court Personnel, Police / Security / Fire, Social Service Personnel, Tribal Enterprise Workers, Tribal Advocates
Written for: PUBLIC SAFETY & SERVICE PROVIDERS: Sheriff's Departments, Police / Fire Departments, Highway Patrol, Court Personnel, District Attorney Offices, Parole / Probation, Social Services, State & Federal Agencies, Criminal Justice Students, Explorers, Various Service Providers
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