Glossary of Terms for Indian Tribal Governments FAQs


These frequently asked questions and answers are provided for general information only and should not be cited as any type of legal authority. They are designed to provide the user with information required to respond to general inquiries. Due to the uniqueness and complexities of Indian law and federal tax law, it is imperative to ensure a full understanding of the specific question presented, and to perform the requisite research to ensure a correct response is provided.

It is the unique relationship that exists between the United States Government and federally recognized tribes. At its broadest, it is characterized by the mixture of legal duties, moral obligations, understandings and expectancies that have arisen from the entire course of dealings between the federal government and the tribes. In its narrowest sense, the relationship approximates that of trustee and beneficiary, with the trustee (the United States) subject in some degree to legally enforceable responsibilities.

It is the inherent right or power of tribes to self-govern, with certain established federal limitations.

It is the principle that tribes enjoy immunity from lawsuits, unless waived. It may also protect the tribes against enforcement of subpoenas but does not generally protect a tribe from subpoenas or summons enforcement actions of the federal government.

Congress enacted Public Law 83-280 (PL 280) in 1953, delegating limited jurisdiction over Indian Country to several states (CA, MN, NE, OR, and WI. AK was added in 1958). The optional states (AZ, FL, ID, IA, MT, NV, ND, UT, and WA) assumed all or part of the jurisdiction offered. Amended in 1968, PL 280 permitted states to retrocede jurisdiction to the federal government, and provided that no states in the future could assume jurisdiction without tribal consent. As a consequence, there has been almost no expansion of PL 280 jurisdiction since 1968. In a number of states where it is still in effect, PL 280 presents jurisdictional questions of considerable complexity.

It is the part of Article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that empowers Congress to "regulate commerce with Indian tribes."

In 1948, Congress gave the concept of Indian Country its present definition. 18USC section 1151 provides:
"Indian Country" means:

  • All land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the reservation;
  • All dependent Indian communities within the borders of the United States, whether within the original or subsequently acquired territory thereof; and
  • All Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including rights-of-way running through the same.

Created under various statutes, particularly the Dawes Act of 1887, a system of landholding provided Indian lands to be allotted to individual Indians. The legal title to existing allotments is held by the United States in trust, with the entire beneficial interest being in the individual allottees.

A tribal member is an Indian who is enrolled in the membership of a tribe and is recognized as a member by that tribe.

Also known as Title 31, the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) was passed in October 1970. The Act requires banks and other financial institutions to keep records and file certain reports which have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, and regulatory investigations or proceedings.

Casinos and card clubs are designated as financial institutions and subject to the requirements of the BSA if:

  • They are licensed to do business as a casino by state, tribal, or local governments, and
  • They have gross annual gaming revenues in excess of one million dollars.

Class I gaming consists of traditional tribal games and "social games" for prizes of nominal value, all of which are subject solely to tribal regulations.

Class II gaming consists of bingo, instant bingo, lotto, punch cards, pull tabs (if played in the same location as bingo), and manual card games legal anywhere in the state and not played against the house. Class II gaming is regulated by both the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and the tribes. A tribe may conduct or license Class II gaming if it occurs in "a state that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person" and is not prohibited by federal law.

Class III gaming consists of card games played against the house, slot machines, dog and horse racing, jai alai, and all other types of casino gaming. The National Indian Gaming Commission's (NIGC's) authority includes review and approval of Class III gaming management contracts. Class III gaming is regulated by compacts negotiated between tribes and states.

Form 8300, Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or BusinessPDF is used to report certain transactions, as well as suspicious transactions, to the IRS. For more information, see the General Instructions on Form 8300 and the FAQ section on Non-Casino Cash Transactions Over $10,000-Form 8300.

IRC Section 139E states an "Indian general welfare benefit" includes any payment made or services provided to or on behalf of a member of an Indian tribe (or any spouse or dependent of such a member) pursuant to an Indian tribal government program, but only if:

  • the program is administered under specified guidelines and does not discriminate in favor of members of the governing body of the tribe, and
  • the benefits provided under such a program                            
    • are available to any tribal member who meets such guidelines,
    • are for the promotion of general welfare,
    • are not lavish or extravagant, and
    • are not compensation for services.

A per capita distribution is a payment made to tribal members by a tribe based solely on membership in the tribe. These are generally made in cash but may be made in kind.