In observance of American Indian Heritage Month this November, the Law Library mounted the display "Many Nations: American Indian Holdings in the Law Library of Congress." The title refers to a recent Library of Congress publication: Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States (1996).
During the exhibit opening, the Law Library hosted a program on Oct. 30 that featured Library staff describing American Indian collections from various parts of the Library: Thomas J. Blumer of the Law Library outlined the scope of the show, Roger Walke of the Congressional Research Service gave an overview of the general collections' Indian holdings, Jennifer Brathovde, herself a member of the Sioux Nation, presented a slide show of Indian images in the Prints and Photographs Division, Joe Hickerson of the Archive of Folk Culture spoke about American Indian fieldwork and played samples of tribal music, and Elizabeth Bazan of CRS described the intricacies of doing legal research in American Indian matters.
According to Ms. Bazan, "To do research in the field of Indian law is to enter a world of complex and fascinating issues. Almost every field of legal inquiry has its counterpart in Indian law; yet, it is, in many ways, unique -- from its constitutional underpinnings to its historical, geographical, ethnological and cultural contexts.
"The relationship of the federal government to the Native Americans is also unique. ... Each case or research project must be approached from its own unique factual, legal, historical, geographical, cultural or political aspects. Even more than in many other areas of legal inquiry, generalizations can be dangerous in Indian law."
For example, the land issues that arise in connection with Navajo and Hopi lands in the Southwest differ substantially from those that affect Alaskan Natives under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or the Trade and Intercourse Act issues involved in the Eastern land claims.
"I have often said that there is no such thing as a simple question in the field of Indian law. Indian law is a field where one will often encounter tensions between tribal, federal, state, local or private interests, particularly when the matter involves a scarce resource such as water," she said.
The resources of the Law Library of Congress can be of extraordinary assistance to both the person venturing into the field of Indian law and the experienced attorney working on an intricate case."
What does the collection include?
If research is needed for the Colonial era, the Law Library has eight volumes of a continuing project to compile Colonial documents relating to North American Indians from 1607 to 1789.
The Law Library's federal collection is extensive. It includes copies of treaties between the federal government and many Indian tribes in a number of resources such as the Statutes at Large, C.J. Kappler's compilation of Indian treaties and an 1873 Compilation of All the Treaties Between the United States and Indian Tribes [then] in Force as Laws, published by the Government Printing Office.
The Library's collection of federal legislative documents includes House and Senate committee reports, congressional hearings and floor debates, as well as all versions of the bills introduced in the House or Senate from 1789 to the present. A wide range of executive branch materials is also available, from presidential documents to federal regulations to many of the opinions of the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior relating to Indian Affairs and others.
In addition, the Law Library has a complete collection of federal trial and appellate court decisions and maintains a large collection of appellate and Supreme Court records and briefs.
The Law Library also has a substantial collection of state materials such as state statutes and court decisions, as well as interstate compacts, and an interesting collection of early period titles such as the Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia or Messages of the Governors of Tennessee.
There is also a useful, though not exhaustive, collection of tribal legal materials.
The Law Library's historical and contemporary international materials may relate to some areas of Indian law. For example, early Spanish laws and royal ordinances and early Mexican laws may shed light on early American treatment of the Pueblo or the California tribes. Current issues regarding free passage or duty-free passage along the border between the United States and Canada may require an examination of Article III of the Jay Treaty of 1794 with the 1796 Explanatory Article, Article IX of the Treaty of Ghent of 1815, the Treaty of Spring Wells of the same year, pertinent case law, as well as more recent American and Canadian laws and regulations, and tribal laws implementing those rights.
One of the remarkable aspects of the collections at the Law Library of Congress is its Rare Book Collection. It includes Colonial and early American materials and a large number of acts of Parliament from Great Britain during the Colonial period. There are also a number of volumes devoted to Indian Territory, including the seven-volume Indian Territory Reports, 1900-09. This rare book collection includes 20th century tribal constitutions and tribal corporate charters for more than 200 federally recognized tribal groups in the lower 48 states, in addition to some materials from a number of Alaskan Native villages and communities. One of the unusual treasures in this collection is a small but historically valuable set of legal materials from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek nations in Oklahoma during the Indian Territory period.