UNITED STATES v. KAGAMA
In response to the Court's ruling in Ex Parte Crowe Dog (1883), Congress passed the Major Crimes Act as part of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1885, which granted the federal courts jurisdiction over certain major crimes committed by one Native American against another. In June 1885, Kagama, a Native American, was tried for the murder of Iyouse, another Native American, on the Hoopa Valley reservation in California. At trial, Kagama challenged the court's jurisdiction over the matter, arguing that the relevant section of the Indian Appropriations Act was unconstitutional. On appeal, Kagama received a division of opinion from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of California.
Does any part of the Constitution grant Congress the power over the jurisdiction of crimes committed by one Native American against another?
Yes. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Samuel F. Miller, the Court acknowledged, "The Constitution of the United States is almost silent in regard to the relations of the government which was established by it to the numerous tribes of Indians within its borders." Nonetheless, the Court reasoned that, because the tribal governments "owe all their powers to the statutes of the United States conferring on them the powers which they exercise, and which are liable to be withdrawn, modified, or repealed at any time by Congress," the legislature could therefore control jurisdiction of crimes committed within reservations. Describing Native Americans as "wards of the nation," the Court concluded, "From their very weakness and helplessness, so largely due to the course of dealing of the Federal Government with them and the treaties in which it has been promised, there arises the duty of protection, and with it the power."