Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



People do not normally associate cities with Indian reservations.The mental images typically conjured by each term are radically different. For most people, "city" evokes visions of skyscrapers, streets teeming with traffic, and bustling crowds. "Indian reservation," on the other hand, brings to mind pictures of solitude, rugged nature, and large empty spaces.

Perhaps for that reason, few think of city governments' and tribal governments in similar terms. The two entities usually are oblivious of one another. When they are introduced, it is often as adversaries in a legal battle concerning the right to govern some rural western community.

Yet, the two forms of government have many things in common.Both are excluded from the federal constitutional framework. Both are subject to the plenary power of one of the constitutionally recognized governments-cities to the state government, tribes to the federal government. Both are the most intimate form of government with which most of their residents are familiar.


This Article draws on the experiences of both cities and tribes to define the role that local governments could and should play in the American federal structure. Part II examines the current theoretical and practical status of cities and Indian tribes in the United States. Part III outlines the similarities and Part IV the differences between cities and Indian tribes. These sections highlight the meaningful comparisons between cities and tribes, and demonstrate that they share characteristics which equip them to perform functions that neither the federal nor state governments can carry out. Part V provides an explanation of the unique normative role that cities and tribes can play in modern society. Part VI demonstrates how courts could facilitate the implementation of this unique role in discrete judicial controversies.