The Supreme Court held that federal law does not preempt tribal authority unless Congress clearly expressed its intent to do so.
Crow Dog, a Brule Sioux, was convicted and sentenced to death in a Dakota territorial court for the murder of another Sioux. Under tribal law, Crow Dog would not have received a sentence of death but would have been required to support the victim’s family. He sought a writ of habeas corpus, contending that the federal government had no criminal jurisdiction over disputes among Native Americans in Indian territory. The U.S. government asserted that the Treaty of 1868 implicitly provided for federal jurisdiction over criminal prosecutions.
By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Crow Dog’s claim. In his opinion, Justice Stanley Matthews
The Crow Dog precedent, which remains good law, requires that treaties and statutes are normally interpreted in favor of retained Indian sovereignty and treaty rights. This principle is especially important in regard to nineteenth century documents that tend to contain many ambiguities. In areas such as the retained rights to hunt and fish, for example, the Crow Dog decision often helped Native American lawyers prevail in court.
Indian Bill of Rights
Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock
Native American sovereignty
Native American treaties