Skip to Main Content

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: Indigenous Peoples' Civil Rights

This guide focuses on the civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States.

Introduction to Indigenous Peoples' Civil Rights

Indigenous people from North America have fought hard to obtain civil liberties from the nations that have colonized them.  Historically, the United States interacted with the various tribes, nations, and Native communities as fellow sovereigns, who ceded land to the United States by treaty and other compacts.  Despite promises to respect Native American sovereignty, the United States reneged on many of the terms of its treaties.  What followed has been a series of varying policy eras that have either expanded or restricted Native American sovereignty.  This section will explore the following stages of Native Americans’ tumultuous history with the United States: (1) Prior to 1492, (2) the Treaty Era, (3) the Removal Era, (4) Reservation Era, (5) the Allotment and Assimilation Era, (6) the Self-Government Era, (7) the Termination Era, and (8) the Self-Determination Era


Important Note

Throughout this section, the indigenous people of the United States are referred to as either "Native American" or "indigenous".  At times, the term "Indian" is used to describe Native Americans.  This reflects the language that the federal courts use in identifying Native Americans and their political identity in relation to the Constitution and laws of the United States.  Take note that tribes and nations, as well individuals, may have preferred identifiers that differ from those found here. 


Sepia tone photo of Crazy Horse standing in a parlor Selected Library Resources:

  • William C. Canby, American Indian Law in a Nutshell (2015), KF8205 .C36 2015
  • Walter R. Echo-Hawk, In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided (2010), eBook
  • Tim Alan Garrison, "Our Cause Will Ultimately Triumph": Profiles in American Indian Sovereignty (2014), KF8205 .O97 2014
  • Beth Rose Middleton, Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (2011), eBook
  • Elmer R. Rusco, A Fateful Time: The Background and Legislative History of the Indian Reorganization Act (2000), KF8205 .R87 2000
  • John Harlan Vinzant, The Supreme Court's Role in American Indian Policy (2009), KF8205 .V56 2009, eBook


Relevant Subject Headings:

  • Indians of North America -- Civil rights
  • Alaska Natives
  • Hawaiians
  • Indian courts
  • Indian judges