Skip to main content
Close Search

American Indian Resources

This portal serves as a means to house all things American Indian at South Dakota State University.

American Indian Definition

The definition of “American Indian” is both legal and personal.

Legal Definition

Tribes in the United States define their own membership or citizenship based on their own set of criteria. Tribes in turn are recognized by the federal government (or sometimes state government) with whom they maintain a government to government relationship. The U.S. government does not decide who or who is not a member of a tribe – tribes have the sovereign right to do this. When a person states that they are “enrolled” or are a “citizen” of a tribe, that means that they meet the criteria for membership in that the tribe. It means they are a legal member or citizen of that tribe.

Personal Definition

There are some people who self-identify as having American Indian or Native American heritage (without legal tribal recognition). There are complex reasons why a person self-identifies as a Native person. Most often the person may have tribal heritage but does not qualify for tribal membership, as defined by the tribe. Or sometimes a non-Native person is adopted by a Native family.

(Adapted from the University of Montana)