Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Indian Law Definition:

Treaties, statutes, executive orders, court decisions and administrative actions defining and implementing the relationship between national, state or proivincial governments, and Indian tribes and individuals.

Related Terms: Indian, Indian Canon

In State v Davids, Madam Justice Janine Geske of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin wrote:

"Indian law is described as the body of jurisprudence created by treaties, statutes, executive orders, court decisions and administrative action defining and implementing the relationship among the United States, Indian tribes and individuals, and the states."

Distinctions are necessary, some obvious, others not.

The obvious one is in reference to the state of India which often presents its law as Indian law; such as "Digest of Indian law cases".

The response to that is to characterize that branch of law which is unique in dealings with North American aboriginals as "American Indian Law" or "North American Indian Law".

However (which takes us to the less obvious distinctions), cultural populations which resided, albeit aparsely, on the North American conquest before the colinization by European sea-going nations, were originaly known as Indians but, later, preferred the term native and then, later still, aboriginal and even indigenous and the nomenclature unique to North American Indians has been altered accordingly.

In the result, the term Indian law as it relates to that body of law particular to dealings with North Ameican Indians, in Canada or in the United States, is referred to by all three names; to wit, and as of 2012:

  • Indian Law;
  • Native Law; and
  • Aboriginal Law.


  • State v. Davids, 534 NW 2d 70 (1995)

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