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In this article we reject the premise that race is merely an independent variable when studying the relationship between Native Americans and U.S. law. Instead we advance a new theory construct that more accurately understands the specific relationship between tribal sovereignty and inequality in the U.S. legal system. We term this new theoretical approach resource-based control that considers 1) how groups are racialized in their economic relationships with the United States, 2) how that process is derivative of the continuing process of U.S. settler-colonialism, and 3) how U.S. law functions to protect the capital of the United States.

We test resource-based control using a newly created tribal sovereignty index and corresponding measures of U.S. legal interference and Tribal legal disruption. We find that tribal sovereign power predicts both US legal action and tribal legal action, lending support to our theory of resource-based control as the attempts of U.S. law to erode tribal sovereignty, but also recognizing the agency of tribes to protect it.