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Federal law about Indian tribes tends to be considered separately from the body of law about federal-state relations. But the problems of coordination, cooperation, deference, and preclusion—central to the law of federalism—are also pivotal when contemplating the authority of Indian tribes and their courts. At issue are the respective arenas of Congress and the executive branch, as well as the allocation of power among tribes, states, and the federal government, the attributes and prerogatives of sovereigns, and the deference and comity entailed in intercourt relationships.

In the context of either state-federal or tribal-federal law, the task is to work out relations among sovereigns that share land and history. Yet equation of states and tribes would be erroneous, for profound differences of history, sociology, and politics exist between the two. When viewed in tandem, however, these bodies of law teach lessons about the interactions between sovereigns and the interdependency of rules, the tensions that sharing jurisdiction imposes, the pressures toward nationalization and homogenization, the wide-spread ambivalence toward centralization and assimilation, the vitality of both tribal and state courts, and the impulses toward and the costs of diversity.

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