Wednesday, November 16, 2016
A tribal fish and game representative recently spoke at our North Crow Neighborhood Watch meeting. During his presentation, he used the term “Indian Country” when repeatedly referring to “rights bestowed upon, or held by, the tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation” in the 1855 Hellgate Treaty and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.
My question is simple: Are the terms Indian Reservation and Indian Country synonymous ... can they be used completely interchangeably or do they imply different areas of property? Does “Indian Reservation” refer only to the land contained within the congressionally defined land reserved for tribal use and occupation while the term “Indian Country” refers to all land originally claimed by any tribe?
I suspect that “synonymous” is the correct answer since the Stevens Treaties begin by stating that the tribes “cede, relinquish and convey” all land previously claimed by them in exchange for a federally “reserved” land, but I would like to be certain. Most federal (congressional and judicial) documents of the period seem to use the synonymous version.
An accurate and agreed upon definition of terms would seem essential for future public discussions, and I, for one, would appreciate any supportive evidence to any response to my request for clarification.
Semantics is a very important part of our language. —Michael Gale, Ronan