1 minute read

Native Americans

Support For Tribal Sovereignty

In recent decades, Congress, like the Supreme Court, has often recognized and supported tribal sovereignty. Since the 1960s self-determination for Native American tribes has been the official federal policy, as is reflected in numerous pieces of congressional legislation. In 1975, for example, Congress enacted the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. This statute authorizes federal agencies providing services to Native Americans to contract with tribes so that the tribes can deliver the services themselves. The purpose of this statute was to liberate Native American tribes from some of the bureaucratic control exercised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Another congressional affirmation of tribal sovereignty is the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. This statute requires that cases involving foster care and adoptive placement of Native American children be heard in tribal rather than state courts when the children are living or have their permanent home on the reservation. Even in some cases where the Native American children live off-reservation, the Indian Child Welfare Act requires that the cases be transferred from state to tribal court. This act affirms both the value of tribal courts and the importance to Native American tribes of controlling the fate of their children when those children must be separated from their parents. Support for tribal sovereignty is also apparent in various federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, that accord tribes the same status as states in implementing their regulatory schemes. Finally, Congress reinforced tribal sovereignty in 1991 when it adopted a statute affirming tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-member Native Americans, overriding an earlier ruling to the contrary by the United States Supreme Court.

Statements of the president of the United States, especially since the 1970s, have declared support for tribal sovereignty as well. The most memorable phrase from these presidential statements recognizes a "government-to-government" relationship between the United States and the Native American tribes. This language cautions the other branches of government that Native American tribes should be treated with the respect due other governmental entities.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesNative Americans - Tribal Governance, Monitoring Government Interference, Support For Tribal Sovereignty, Treaty-making Before 1871