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The Fight Against Unjust Legal Principles

Op-Ed by Loris Taylor, President & CEO, Native Public Media

Picture Source: ASU Law School

American Indian nations are sovereign with inherent rights to their lands. However, the United States Supreme Court's 1823 ruling effectively nullified these rights by establishing that the United States government held ultimate title to all lands acquired through the "discovery" of European explorers.

Johnson v M'intosh, a landmark case, was a critical turning point in the history of American Indians. This case dealt with the issue of land ownership and established the principle of "discovery" as the legal basis for the acquisition of indigenous lands by the United States government. This decision set the stage for the displacement and dispossession of American Indian Tribes from the east to the west coasts of the modern United States.

The Johnson v M'intosh decision was significant because it established a legal framework for dealing with land claims that have endured. This framework has been used to negotiate treaties, establish reservations, and settle land disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous parties.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing recognition of the harm caused by the Johnson v M'intosh decision and the broader history of colonization and exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Efforts to address this legacy have included the repatriation of sacred objects and remains, the establishment of tribal colleges and universities, and the recognition of indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

Overall, the Johnson v M'intosh decision was a devastating blow to the rights and autonomy of American Indian nations. It played a critical role in shaping the U.S. legal and political landscapes. As we continue to grapple with the legacy of colonization and strive toward a more just and equitable society, we must acknowledge and address the harm caused by this and other historical injustices.

A recent Arizona State University law forum brought together Indigenous speakers from various parts of the world to discuss how Johnson v M'intosh and the Doctrine of Discovery have affected Indigenous nations and peoples globally. These speakers shared their experiences and struggles against colonialism, underscoring the need to fight against unjust legal principles.


"American Indians" is a term used by U.S. Courts to describe indigenous peoples in forty-eight states. Federal laws refer to the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and Hawaii as "Alaska Natives" and "Native Hawaiians." It is recommended to use the terms tribal nations or tribal communities use. "American Indian law" is used to describe laws covering the relationship between tribal, federal, and state governments and the laws specific to individual tribes. Source:


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