30 Am. Indian L. Rev. 151 (2005-2006)
Conflicts in Sovereignty: The Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island

handle is hein.journals/aind30 and id is 161 raw text is: NOTES

Bryan J. Nowlin*
American Indian tribal sovereignty is important to both tribal members and
the states in which they reside. Historically, the line between tribal sovereignty
and state jurisdiction is not easy to find. Jurisdictional conflicts are a sign of
healthy sovereigns, as a weak sovereign cannot defend against encroachments
upon its jurisdiction. The federal courts have greatly increased the scope of
tribal sovereignty in several cases, notably clarifying state tax exemptions.'
Congress has also played a role in re-establishing defunct tribes as sovereign
entities and passing statutes such as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988
that clarify tribal rights to operate enterprises without state government
interference.2 The United States Supreme Court clarified federal law further
stating that a state government may prohibit all gambling as a matter of public
policy. It may not, however, allow some gambling while disallowing Indian
gambling because that would essentially be a regulatory act.' Re-establishing
a tribe is the ultimate act of jurisdictional re-balancing in favor of tribal
sovereignty. After all, a weak jurisdiction cannot defend against encroachment
any more than a moribund jurisdiction could bring itself back to life.
Frequently these re-established tribes are not immediately given the same full
status as other tribal sovereignties.
The Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island is just one such reestablished Tribe
that now seeks to assert its full sovereign rights. Roger Williams, the founder
of Rhode Island, initially purchased land from the tribe but as the number of
colonists grew, friction with the tribe grew proportionately.4 Rhode Island and
the Narragansett have a long and tumultuous history, including a war in 1675
in which the colonists defeated the Narragansett.5 The Tribe claims that the
* Third-year student, University of Oklahoma College of Law. Editor-in-chief,
American Indian Law Review. B.A. Boston College, 2002.
1. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Chickasaw Nation, 515 U.S. 450 (1995).
2. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. § 2701 (2000).
3. California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 209-11 (1987).
4. Jack L. Davis, Roger Williams Among the Narragansett Indians, 43 NEWENGLANDQ.
593, 598-99 (1970).
5. Ethel Boissevain, The Detribalization of the Narragansett Indians: A Case Study, 3
ETHN-NOHSTORY 225, 226 (1956).

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