Theses Doctoral

'The Sovereignty that Seemed Lost Forever': The War on Poverty, Lawyers, and the Tribal Sovereignty Movement, 1964-1974

Roy, Aurelie Audrey

Relying on interviews of Indian rights lawyers as well as archival research, this collective history excavates a missing page in the history of the modern tribal sovereignty movement. At a time when vocal Native American political protests were raging from Washington State, to Alcatraz Island, to Washington, D.C., a small group of newly graduated lawyers started quietly resurrecting Indian rights through the law. Between 1964 and 1974, these non-Indian and Native American lawyers litigated on behalf of Indians, established legal assistance programs as part of the War on Poverty efforts to provide American citizens with equal access to a better life, and founded institutions to support the protection of tribal rights. In the process, they would also inadvertently create both a profession and an academic field—Indian law as we know it today—which has since attracted an increasing number of lawyers, including Native Americans. This story is an attempt at reconstituting a major dimension of the rise of tribal sovereignty in the postwar era, one that has until now remained in the shadows of history: how Indian rights, considered obsolete until the 1960s, gained legitimacy by seizing a series of opportunities made available in part through ‘accidents’ of history. The work done by this new generation of Indian rights lawyers between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s recast definitions of tribal sovereignty in Indian Country as well as the practice and teaching of Indian law. At its core, this project seeks to realize three aspirations: First, to explain where Native American rights come from and how they interact, engage, and fit in with American law; second, to dissect the uses and limitations of law as an avenue for the pursuit of social justice; and third, to probe the question of whether the United States can function as a plural state capable of hosting multiple visions of politics, law, and culture.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Jacoby, Karl H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 24, 2017