United States v. Kagama

Facts of the Case

Two Indians were indicted for murder committed on an Indian reservation. The Indians were charged with murdering another Indian.


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to the statutes of the United States conferring on them the powers which they exercise, and which are liable to be withdrawn, modified, or repealed at any time by Congress, the legislature could therefore control jurisdiction of crimes committed within reservations.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.

Case Information

  • Citation: 118 US 375 (1886)
  • Argued: Mar 2, 1886
  • Decided May 10, 1886