Alaska and Public Law 280 and its Upcoming 60th Anniversary

Background Report on Public Law 280 – Prepared at the request of Henry M. Jackson, Chairman, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs United States Senate.  U.S. Government Printing Office Washington: March 18, 1975.

MEMORANDUM OF THE CHAIRMAN

To: Members of the Senate committee on Interior and Insular Affairs:

“During the 1950’s the national Indian policy sought to end or ‘terminate’ the Federal responsibility for, and special relationship with, Indian tribes.  The ultimate effect of this policy on Indian tribes would mean that all statutes pertaining to Indians would no longer be applicable; that the Federal programs and services provided to Indians solely on the basis of their status as Indians would cease; and that Federal protection would no longer be provided for Indian lands and other natural resources.

“It was during this era that Public Law 280 was adopted by the 83rd Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower on August 15, 1953.  The express purpose of this public law was to grant broad discretionary authority to the States to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian reservations within their borders.  Prior to passage of Public Law 280, State jurisdiction over Indian reservations was prescribed by specific statutes approved by Congress or judicially recognized because of their involvement of non-Indians.  And jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters between Indians on their reservations was vested in either tribal governments or the Federal Government.

“The Public Law 280 legislation was approved by Congress in the face of strenuous Indian opposition and denied consent of the Indian tribes affected by the Act.  In its final form the statute gave five States civil and criminal jurisdiction over all but three tribes within those States, and gave the United States authority to grant similar jurisdiction to all other States.

“The Indian community viewed the passage of Public Law 280 as an added dimension to the dreaded termination policy.  Since the inception of its passage the statute has been criticized and opposed by tribal leaders throughout the Nation.  The Indians allege that the Act is deficient in that it failed to fund the States who assumed jurisdiction and as a result vacuums of law enforcement protection have occurred in certain Indian reservations and communities.  They contend further that the Act has resulted in complex jurisdictional problems for Federal, State and tribal governments.

“With this background the Committee requested the American Law Division of the Library of Congress to prepare a report on Public Law 280.  The Committee envisioned that the report would serve as an educational and informational document for the Indian community, Members of Congress and other interested individuals and organizations.  The Committee wishes to commend Mr. David M. Ackerman, legislative attorney, American Law Division, for his thorough legal research and preparation of the background paper.

“This report merits the study by all interested parties in this complex issue.  I am hopeful that it will stimulate fresh thinking and new approaches to the resolution of the many problems imposed on the Indian community, the States, and the Federal Government, by Public Law 280.

Henry M. Jackson, Chairman.”

“I have…signed it because its basic purpose represents still another step in granting complete political equality to all Indians in our Nation.

My objection to the bill arises because of the inclusion in it of sections 6 and 7.  These sections permit other States to impose on Indian tribes within their borders, the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State, removing the Indians from Federal jurisdiction, and , in some instances, effective self-government.  The failure to include in these provisions a requirement of full consultation in order to ascertain the wishes and desires of the Indians and of final Federal approval, was unfortunate.  I recommend, therefore, that at the earliest possible time in the next session of the Congress, the act be amended to require such consultation with the tribes prior to the enactment of legislation subjecting them to State jurisdiction, as well as approval by the Federal Government before such legislation becomes effective.”

– President Dwight Eisenhower on signing Public Law 83-280 into law on August 18, 1953.

Public Law 280 would not be amended with some of President Eisenhower’s recommendations until 1968.  The 1968 amendments provide for retrocession of Public Law 280, which the state of Washington has recently done, allowing for tribes to re-assume civil and criminal jurisdiction after over 50 years of Public Law 280.

Public Law 280 would be amended in 1958 to include the Territory of Alaska, one year before statehood.  In 1970 Public Law 280 would be amended returning criminal jurisdiction to the Metlakatla Indian community, the only Indian Country in Alaska.

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