The legal meaning of the term ‘Indian country,’ is the territorial area over which an Indian tribe has jurisdiction; the land over which the tribe makes and enforces its laws. Indian country has roots in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by the British Parliament. In an attempt to make peace with the Indians, the Proclamation prohibited colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. The land west of the Appalachians was known as ‘Indian country’ or ‘Indian territory,’ the place where tribal laws applied.
The colonists objected to the Proclamation, and it was violated almost immediately after it was issued. The Proclamation lost its force after the Revolutionary war as the new United States made its own rulings about Indian affairs. Indian country was vastly reduced in the years following 1763 through epidemics and wars with the Indians, removal from their homelands, treaty-making, and allotment of Indian lands.