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American Indians and Alaska Natives - Indian Country and Reservations

Published: March 19, 2014
Fact Sheet
  • Broadly speaking, Indian country is all the land under the supervision of the federal government that has been set aside primarily for the use of Indians.  This includes all land within an Indian reservation and all land outside a reservation that has been placed under federal superintendence and designated primarily for Indian use.
  • As a general rule, state laws do not apply to Indians in Indian country.  Instead, tribal and federal laws apply.
  • Indian country is defined in a federal criminal statute (18 U.S.C. 1151) as follows:

(a) all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States government, notwithstanding the issue of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the reservation.

(b) all dependent Indian communities within the borders of the United States whether within the original or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and whether within or without the limits of a state, and

(c) all Indian allotment, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including rights-of-way running through the same.

  • An Indian reservation is land that has been set aside by the federal government for the use, possession, and benefit of an Indian tribe or group of Indians.  The terms Indian country and Indian reservation are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.  Indian country is a larger concept because it includes not only all Indian reservations but also dependent Indian communities and trust and restricted allotments located outside a reservation.