A Proposal for Extension of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to Indian-Owned Businesses on Reservations

This Note argues that the Act does not apply to Indian businesses because it does not specifically mention them. While sensitive to the desirability of providing certain kinds of federal protections to all Americans, this Note takes the position that the sovereignty of Indian tribes should not be abrogable except by considered and express congressional action. Concluding nonetheless that the workplace protection the Occupational Safety and Health Act provides should be extended to Indians on reservations, the Note proposes amendment of the Act: to extend its protection; to permit tribal enforcement; and to authorize the federal government to help financially troubled Indian businesses pay for the costs of compliance. Part I describes the historical relationship of Indians to the United States. Part II explains the two conflicting views on whether general federal statutes implicitly apply to Indian tribes. Interpreting the Act in light of the proper rule, Part II concludes that the Act does not apply to Indian businesses on reservations. Part III argues that Indians on reservations nevertheless need the Act’s protection, and should receive it through congressional amendment. Part III stresses that Congress should respect Indian sovereignty by soliciting Indian ideas about the nature of the amendment, and by granting the Act’s enforcement power to the tribes themselves.