What was the significance of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968?

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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In 1896 the Supreme Court Case Talton v. Mayes decided that Individual Rights, which limit the power of government, did not apply to Native American tribal governments. This was following in the legal precedent of the Supreme Court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), which established Native American tribes as "domestic dependent nations," which were not under the auspices of the Federal government, and therefore not subject to the Bill of Rights.

The significance of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA) was that it limited the power of Native American tribal governments from violating Individual Rights. In effect, the Federal government attempted to extend its enforcement of Individual Rights over Native American laws or customs. The ICRA's text includes many tenets of the Bill of Rights (freedom of religion and speech, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, etc.) Unlike the Bill of Rights, however, it does not forbid a tribe from establishing a tribal religion, nor does it guarantee an attorney in criminal cases if a defendant cannot afford legal counsel, nor does it guarantee a jury trial in civil cases.

Although extending Constitutional protections to Native Americans would appear to be beneficial, the legal power of ICRA became limited by the Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez case (1978) which limited the enforcement role of the Federal government over Native American tribal governments. So although on paper the ICRA is still in effect, tribal self-determination now prevails over Federal law, which means that the potential to violate Natives' Individual Rights is greater.

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