What is an Indian Reservation?
Many people in the United States do not fully understand the meaning of an Indian Reservation. It is much more than land that has been set aside by the U.S. government for the Native Americans living in the country. There are also laws that are specific to reservations and many other interesting facts.
Native Americans not only reside on the reservations, but they govern the land as well. The different tribes have their own laws, police, and court system. The state a reservation is located does not have jurisdiction over the reservation. However, the Federal laws do apply on these special areas of land.
The reservations are part of the United States but they are also their own nations because they have their own governments. It can often be confusing, but when dealing with Federal laws, those living on a reservation must follow them. On the other hand, each of the reservations' government deal with the U.S. on a nation-to-nation level.
Most of the people who reside on the reservations are Native Americans. They belong to the local tribes and in 2012 there were about 1 million Native Americans living on the 326 U.S. reservations, but there are another 1.5 million Native Americans in the country who do not live on a reservation.
The land making up the reservation make up about 2.3% of the entire country or about 56.2 million acres. Navajo Nation Reservation takes up nearly 16 million acres and is the largest in the U.S., covering land in three states, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Most of the other reservations are much smaller, with the smallest being a preserved cemetery of the Pit River Tribe in California, covering just one acre.
The reservations were mostly created through a series of treaties between local tribes and the U.S. government, though some of those treaties were broken by the U.S. when they took away land from tribes. This occurred in the 1800s as many eastern tribes were forced to move to lands in Oklahoma. Fortunately, in the 1900s, new laws were passed to protect the land of the tribes and the rights of the Native Americans. Three of them included the Indian Citizen Act, Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Civil Rights Act.
Today, life on reservations can sometimes be very difficult because many of the Native Americans live in poverty. High unemployment, poor living conditions, and drug abuse is often prevalent and causes many problems for the citizens. It is estimated that 90,000 Native American families are either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.
Some tribes have built casinos (gambling places) to help improve their economy. The casinos have become tourist attractions bringing visitors to the reservations, who then spend money to help the economy.
In addition, the Native American culture is becoming lost over the years, but those on the reservations are trying to preserve and renew the Indian way of life. They create original arts and crafts and preserve the tribal languages, ceremonies, dances, and traditional stories.
Finally, there are some tribes not recognized by the U.S. government and do not have their own reservation. The land set aside may or may not be the tribe's original land. In all, there are 566 tribes recognized by the Federal government. Twenty-five states have reservations with California having the most tribes with 121.
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