oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - American Indian law and the recognition of aboriginal environmental rights

Volume 26, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



An issue that will have to be addressed in post-apartheid South Africa is the extent to which, if at all, tribal cultures and traditional rights to natural resources should be protected. In this article American 'Indian law' is considered to determine whether any lessons may be learnt from its evolution which may be relevant to environmental law and its development in South Africa, particularly with regard to the needs of our indigenous people in rural areas. American Indian law is a complex body of law, rooted in an historical background of colonisation, conflict, conquest, treaties, removals, relocations, and attempted assimilation. It is a body of law which 'has always been heavily intertwined with Federal Indian policy, and over the years the law has shifted back and forth with the flow of popular and government attitudes toward Indians'. It is a body of law that not only serves as a barometer of American attitudes toward minority groups, but also plays an important cultural role, in that native American tribal identity depends on it for continued existence. This article is a brief overview of the unique legal position in American society of the native Americans known as 'Indians', with particular reference to their original rights to the land and the harvesting of natural resources.

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