There are a number of types of "Indian country" recognized by US law: reservations, informal reservations, dependent
Indian communities, allotments, and special designations.
To be recognized as "Indian country", usually, the land must either be within an Indian reservation or it must be federal
trust land (land technically owned by the federal government but held in trust for a tribe or tribal member). For most purposes,
the types of Indian country are as follows:
1. Reservations (18 USC 1151(a)). Historically, Indian reservations were
created when particular tribes signed treaties with the United States. Among other things (treaties often included provisions
for tribal members to receive law enforcement, education, health care benefits, and to retain hunting/fishing rights) the
tribes typically transferred their traditional lands to the United States government but "reserved" part of their lands for
tribal purposes. These "reserved" lands became known as "reservations". Later, many "reservations" were created by presidential
executive orders or by congressional enactments. As defined by 18 USC 1151(a), "Indian country" consists of all land within
a reservation including land that is privately owned and land that is subject to a right-of-way (for example, a publicly accessible
road). However, some reservations have been "disestablished" or nullified by such things as federal court decisions
or later congressional enactments.
2. Informal Reservations - if a reservation has been disestablished or if the legal existence of a reservation
is not clear, remaining trust lands that have been set aside for Indian use are still Indian country (Oklahoma Tax Commission
v. Chickasaw Nation, 515 US 450 and Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Sac & Fox Nation, 508 US 114).
3. Dependent Indian
communities (18 USC 1151(b)). In US v. Sandoval (231 US 28) the US Supreme Court ruled that pueblo tribal lands in New Mexico
are "Indian country" and in US v. McGowan (302 US 535) the Court ruled that Indian colonies in Nevada are also "Indian country".
The results of these decisions were later codified at 18 USC 1151(b) as "dependent Indian communities". The Court has interpreted
"dependent Indian communities" to be land which is federally supervised and which has been set aside for the use of Indians,
Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie (522 US 520).
4. Allotments (18 USC 1151(c)). Primarily from 1887 until 1934,
the federal government ran programs where some parcels of tribal trust land were allotted or assigned to particular Indian
persons or particular Indian families (but further transfers were to be temporarily restricted by the federal government).
Some of these allotments were later converted to private ownership. However, when the allotment programs were frozen by Congressional
enactment in 1934, many parcels of land were still in restricted or trust status - these remaining parcels are "Indian country"
even if they are no longer within a reservation.
5. Special Designations - Congress can specially designate that certain lands are Indian country for jurisdictional
purposes even if those lands might not fall within one of the categories mentioned above. An example of this is Santa
Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Public Law 106-568, section 824(c)).
Who is an Indian?