Addie C. Rolnick


The Promise of Mancari: Indian Political Rights as Racial Remedy

Addie C. Rolnick

In 1974, the Supreme Court declared that an Indian employment preference was
based on a “political rather than racial” classification. The Court’s framing of Indianness
as a political matter and its positioning of “political” and “racial” as
opposing concepts has defined the trajectory of federal Indian law and influenced
common sense ideas about what it means to be Indian ever since. This oppositional
framing has had specific practical consequences, including obscuring the
continuing significance of racialization for Indians and concealing the mutually
constitutive relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.
This Article explores the legal roots of the political classification doctrine, its
ongoing significance, and the descriptive limits and normative consequences of the
ideas that it contains. Specifically, this Article argues that the political classification
doctrine constructs race as an irrelevant matter of ancestry and Indianness as a
simple matter of civic participation. This Article suggests a new framework for considering
Indian issues and federal Indian law that draws on a more robust and
realistic understanding of both race and Indianness to acknowledge the cyclical
relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.