An Indian reservation is an area of land tenure governed by a federally recognized Native American tribal nation under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, rather than by the government of the state in which it is located.
The 326 Indian reservations in the United States are associated with specific Native American nations, often on a one-to-one basis.
Some of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes govern more than one reservation, while some share reservations, and others have no reservation at all.
In addition, because of past land allotments, leading to sales to non–Native Americans, some reservations are severely fragmented, with each piece of tribal, individual, and privately held land being a separate enclave.
This jumble of private and public real estate creates significant administrative, political and legal difficulties.
The collective geographical area of all reservations is 56,200,000 acres (22,700,000 ha; 87,800 sq mi; 227,000 km2), approximately the size of the state of Idaho.
While most reservations are small compared to U.S. states, there are twelve Indian reservations larger than the state of Rhode Island.
The largest reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, is similar in size to West Virginia.
Reservations are unevenly distributed throughout the country; the majority are west of the Mississippi River and occupy lands that were first reserved by treaty or “granted” from the public domain.
Because recognized Native American nations possess limited tribal sovereignty, laws on tribal lands vary from those of the surrounding area.
For example, these laws can permit legal casinos on reservations located in states which do not allow gambling, attracting tourism.
The tribal council, not the local government or the state or federal government, generally has jurisdiction over the reservation.
Different reservations have different systems of government, which may or may not replicate the forms of government found outside the reservation.
Most Native American reservations were established by the federal government; a limited number, mainly in the East, owe their origin to state recognition.
The term “reservation” is a legal designation. It comes from the conception of the Native American nations as independent sovereigns at the time the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Thus, early peace treaties (often signed under conditions of duress or fraud), in which Native American nations surrendered large portions of their land to the United States, designated parcels which the nations, as sovereigns, “reserved” to themselves, and those parcels came to be called “reservations”.
The term remained in use after the federal government began to forcibly relocate nations to parcels of land to which they had no historical connection.
Today a majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives live somewhere other than the reservations, often in the larger western cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles.
In 2012, there were over 2.5 million Native Americans, with 1 million living on reservations.
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