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Tribal and Soverignity Law

Sovereignty Matters.


Let’s consider homage to tribal sovereignty…

What do you know about Tribal Nation Sovereignty? The smallest word such as “Sovereignty” translates into a much larger term than expected when it comes to reviewing this concept in terms of tribal governance. So if you have not defined tribal sovereignty yet, do not worry because I have already done it for you.

Sovereignty: An autonomous state free from external control,

Its a fact. When Native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently out-perform external decision makers—on matters as diverse as governmental form, natural resource management, economic development, health care and social service provision. However, most nations do not take advantage of the basic of instincts; self-determination, self-governance, and self-accountability.


The history of federal policy towards the indigenous has reflected changing ideas about whether we should be assimilated into white society or whether tribal nations should retain sovereignty— our right to be independent and self-governing entities. We, the First Americans, have always maintained that each individual tribe is a sovereign nation and should therefore be authorized to govern itself without outside influence. Official recognition of Native American sovereignty has fluctuated according to the beliefs of presidents, Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Consequently, the rights of Native Americans have been expanded and curtailed at various times throughout the nation’s history.


When Europeans began to invade and colonize North America, each settlement recognized its neighboring Indian tribes as self-governing, independent entities as government doctrine. The settlers negotiated treaties with our people to secure peace and regulate trade and the expansion of white settlements. After the Revolutionary War, and out of the blue, the U.S. Constitution gave Congress “plenary” power over all tribes; Congress continued to recognize Indian tribes as foreign nations and negotiated treaties with them as equal governments.

Even with this recognition tribal entities were and still are not involved in the U.S. political agenda, which why would they ‘give a hoot’ all of a sudden? The Indian Removal Act of 1830 required most of the eastern tribes to give up their lands and move west of the Mississippi River, despite any guarantees of permanent residence in their existing treaties with the government. When the Cherokees sued the state of Georgia in 1831 to prevent the enforcement of the act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, declaring that Indian tribes were “domestic dependent nations” that had lost their status as independent, foreign nations. Forty years later, Congress enacted legislation that changed the status of tribes forever; the new law (known as Section 71) eliminated the need for treaties with the Indian nations altogether by allowing Congress to use legislation— which did not require the Indians’ consent—to govern the tribes.


The Dawes Act of 1887 further changed the lives of Indians. The act, also known as the General Allotment Act, attempted to force the assimilation of our ways into white culture by mandating the education of Indian children in specially built schools, forbidding Native American ceremonies, and dismantling the reservations. Many of our relations were given plots of reservation land to farm; the remaining land was sold to white farmers. Congress hoped that surrounding the Indians with white culture would encourage them to adopt white beliefs and practices, but this policy failed abysmally because most Indians did not want to give up their culture.

During the Great Depression, Congress passed legislation intended to restore some sovereignty to Indian tribes: the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. The purpose of the new law was to “rehabilitate the Indian’s economic life and to give him a chance to develop the initiative destroyed by a century of oppression and paternalism.” The IRA prohibited the further breakdown of reservations, added land to existing reservations, and encouraged tribes to adopt their own constitutions and become self-governing.

Federal Indian policy shifted course once again in 1953 under a congressional resolution known as “termination.” The new policy was an attempt to assimilate Native Americans into white society and to encourage self-sufficiency by terminating federal benefits to the tribes and by abolishing the reservations. Under this policy, federal benefits for more than one hundred tribes were eliminated. Many reservations were broken up, tribal assets were distributed among the tribes’ members, and tribal governments were dissolved. Moreover, for the first time Congress gave some state governments full jurisdiction over criminal offenses and partial jurisdiction over civil matters that occurred on the reservations. Up until then, the states had never had any jurisdiction over us, our lands, or properties.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, several laws were enacted that were designed to secure our rights and encourage development on Indian reservations. One new law sought to promote self-determination and economic development by forbidding states to acquire any more authority over tribes without the tribe’s express approval (1968). Other legislation established loan programs to develop Native American businesses and resources (1968); allowed tribes to administer federal programs themselves (1975); granted tribes many of the tax benefits enjoyed by state governments (1982); and permitted tribes to sponsor high-stakes bingo and gambling in states that permitted any other form of gambling (1988).


The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988 has been the cause of much debate in recent years. The law requires tribes to negotiate agreements, or “compacts,” with state governments about the types of gambling that will be allowed on their reservations. The act also ensures that Indian casinos are wholly owned by the tribe so that the tribe collects the profits. Neither side is entirely happy with IGRA; the states maintain that the act forces them to accept forms of gambling that they may not want, while the tribes contend that the act limits their sovereignty by forcing us to negotiate with the states.

Another disagreement between the tribes and the states concerns the revenues from Indian casino gambling and other tribal businesses. In 1996, profits from Indian gaming in over 230 high-stakes bingo parlors and gambling casinos in 29 states were about $6 billion. Under IGRA, tribes are required to use their gaming revenues to pay for tribal government operations and services, to improve the welfare of their citizens, to support economic development, and to make charitable donations. The tribes maintain that gaming proceeds have given them the money they long have needed to pull ourselves out of poverty, become self-sufficient, preserve our heritage, and hopefully take charge of our future. 

While the tribes may believe that gaming income benefits both Indians and non-Indians; other farts, politicos, and vagabonds think differently. According to some state and local government officials (ie. New York) — they believe Indian gaming revenues should be subject to the same taxes as non-Indian casinos. They argue that the high numbers of customers at the reservations’ casinos put a strain on the local roads and police and fire departments. Critics complain that the casinos receive the benefits of improved roads and fire and police protection, yet they do not pay their fair share to support these services. Such a drain on the limited tax revenues is unfair, they maintain.

Furthermore, according to some critics of Indian gaming, the proceeds from casinos and other tribal enterprises put non-Indian businesses at a distinct disadvantage. Indian-owned reservation businesses—such as casinos, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and stores—do not have to pay business, property, or sales taxes. Non-Indian companies, on the other hand, are required to pay such taxes and must pass on the cost to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

Critics contend that the higher prices charged by non-Indian businesses encourage many consumers to make their purchases on the reservation, thus threatening the survival of non-Indian businesses.


The debate over taxation reflects the broader question of sovereignty—that is, whether or not Indian tribes should be considered independent, self-governing entities. Sovereignty is at the heart of the issues considered in our American Indian Rights. To which, I shall end with the contention that our sovereignty matters and that we, the people, should and eventually will take advantage of this concept. Our political situation is unique and we must make sure we don’t lose sight of this opportunity, in fact, I believe most of us haven’t and are planning the right necessities to ensure our political survival. Which, thankfully this site has provided me the opportunity to post this.


I know jumping everywhere and missing many points about tribal sovereignty is most likely unprofessional of me, but I’m only a high school student… It’s — how shall I say… EXPECTED. With that, I thank you for either (1) skimming through my article, (2) reading one or two paragraphs, or (3) looking for my grammatical errors.

Best Regards,



4 thoughts on “Sovereignty Matters.

  1. interesting article.. I laughed, reading the parts about taxes.. lol.. the original Illegal Immigrants think it’s unfair that they’re being taxed.. they all need to pay us rent anywayz 😉

    Posted by crattlinggourd | March 28, 2011, 1:00 am
  2. Goot article! So much information about a vital topic – it’s very difficult to do justice without several pages and lots of ‘legalese’ language. Enjoyed the irony of the WF (white folks) complaining about taxes, speaking ‘with a forked tongue out of both sides of their mouths’ – they’re messed up in their own policies, and can’t find a way out!! Keep the research coming. You did a fine job of trying to simplify some very complex issues.

    Posted by Brendan "Bull" Mikus | March 29, 2011, 3:28 am
  3. very smart young person, may be hard for many tribes within usa to incorporate all their tribal laws. for the gov would charges us labor fees for the fools they have running it now.we can hope one day there will be a president that has a heart for the true people of this land and give native americans the justice owed without taxes.all we can do is sing until one day they here our music.
    keep posting like you mind…peace.

    Posted by Michelle Smetana | April 3, 2011, 7:49 am

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