Sovereignty | Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
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Required Profile of Learning
To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements.
Understand what they read, hear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing.
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences.
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings.
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations.
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decisionmaking processes to promote personal growth and the wellbeing of society.
Know how to manage a household or business. Understanding the effective management of resources in a household, business, community, and government.
Understanding interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles on interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations. Standard Understands the concept of tribal sovereignty and the relationship of sovereignty to treaties and tribal governments of Minnesota based American Indian tribes
- Understands that sovereignty is the basis of treaties between American Indian tribes and the United States government.
- Understands that sovereignty is the foundation of tribal governments.
- Understands the relationship between tribes and federal, state and local governments.
- Understands that tribally enrolled American Indians have a "dual citizenship."
- Understands that American Indian tribes and their members have a unique political status that is different from other racial/ethnic/cultural groups.
- Describes and analyzes the concept of sovereignty and the relationship of sovereignty to treaties and tribal governments of Minnesota based American Indian tribes in a historical context.
- Examines persisting issues involving rights, roles and status of tribes in Minnesota.
- Observes and analyzes contemporary American Indian issues in relationship to the concept of sovereignty.
- Describes the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in relationship to tribal members. Specifications: Must examine these issues in relationship to both Ojibwe and Dakota nations.
Students will be able to: define tribal sovereignty and document the application of this concept in studying history and contemporary issues.
This outcome includes:
- defining tribal sovereignty;
- relating tribal sovereignty to the concept of dual citizenship;
- understanding impact on contemporary issues such as gaming and hunting/fishing rights; and
- recognizing historical link to treaties.
Tribal sovereignty is a vital issue to American Indian tribes today. All students should have knowledge of this concept in order to understand American Indian cultures of the past and contemporary tribal issues. Students will be able to function as responsible citizens if they know how sovereignty affects interactions of tribes with the federal government, the state of Minnesota and local governing units.
Cultural Content/American Indian World View
American Indian nations possess an inherent and unique political status based on sovereignty. This legal political status conveys dual citizenship along with specific rights and responsibilities. This inherent political status sets American Indian nations apart from all other racial and ethnic groups in United States.
Teacher Background Information
"Tribal sovereignty" refers to the right of American Indian tribes to determine their own future. American Indian tribes through elected tribal governments have the right to operate as self–governing nations.
When the United States government signed treaties with tribal nations, it affirmed the inherent sovereignty of the tribes. American Indian tribes have always been sovereign nations and controlled their own destiny. The United States Congress acknowledged this under House Concurrent Resolution 331. Among the attributes of sovereignty are American Indian control of the land and inherent powers. The inherent powers include: the power to determine the form of government; to define conditions for membership in the nation; to administer justice and enforce laws; to tax; to regulate domestic relations of its members; to regulate property tax.
One of the aspects of sovereignty is to be able to exert power to enforce the sovereignty. The governments of these nations have always operated in accordance with democratic principles. An example is the Iroquois Confederacy. The framers of the U.S. Constitution based many of their basic concepts on this Confederacy. Each nation within the confederacy selected individuals to represent them at confederacy meetings. Issues were deliberated until all were in agreement on a common course of action. This method of decision making still used today is called consensus democracy.
In all the treaties and agreements, which took place between American Indian nations and the United States government, the tribes retained the right to maintain their own governments. This right has been upheld since the 1830´s when federal courts affirmed a trust responsibility to the tribes. That responsibility includes the protection of tribal rights and interests particularly with regard to tribal lands and resources. Federal Indian policy, however, followed an opposite course. In the treaties American Indian tribes agreed to cede vast segments of their homelands in exchange for honoring their right to retain small segments of this land for tribal members in common. The treaties included provisions which guaranteed the tribes government services in the areas of education, health and technical assistance. Some of the treaties guaranteed tribal members the right to hunt, fish and gather resources in a customary manner on ceded lands.
Federal Policies and Practices
The federal government did not honor the treaties. Instead, the federal and state governments pursued policies and passed laws which led to the erosion of tribal political rights and the further confiscation of American Indian lands. Although the right of tribes to govern their own nations has been affirmed by treaty, federal laws, executive orders, federal policy and procedure have eroded the tribes´ freedom to exercise this sovereign right. Early in the relationships between American Indian Nations and the United States government, Congress used constitutional powers as justification for passing laws and approving treaties and agreements to regulate trade with Indian Nations. Later Congress arbitrarily passed legislation which interfered with the internal affairs of Indian Nations and assumed plenary power over Indian Nations. These actions attempted to exercise control over all aspects of American Indian life. United States courts have usually supported the plenary powers of Congress.
In 1790 the enactment of the first Indian Trade and Intercourse Act brought federal control over non–Indians on Indian land. The act was designed to "control" invasions of Indian land. This act and subsequent Trade Acts encouraged broader intrusions upon American Indian selfgovernment. The loss of the Indian land base through acts of the federal government has been enormous. Despite provisions of acts authorizing the acquisition of lands for American Indians, Congress did not appropriate money for the purpose of Indian land buy–back. The Dawes Act of 1887 allotted Indian lands that resulted in the further loss of millions of acres. Assimilation policies followed the loss of land. These policies sought to destroy tribal cultures and assimilate American Indians as individuals into mainstream society. The exercise of sovereign powers by Indian Nations had already been eroded through legislation. The following methods were used:
- The political question doctrine: Questions decided by the legislature or executive branch and not by courts.
- The guardian ward relationship: "Trust" responsibility supposedly allowed Congress extraordinary power to take actions to protect Indian Nations.
- Plenary power of Congress: The courts have said that the power of Congress in Indian affairs is plenary (full or complete). Congressional power in Indian affairs is mentioned in the United States Constitution.
External controls are requested by American Indian governments, but often Congressional action has been prompted by special interest groups who oppose the exercise of tribal sovereignty.
From 1770 to 1870 Congress increased its role in Indian affairs from regulating trade with American Indians to controlling almost all facets of American Indian government. Treaty specifications were systematically reduced by subsequent acts of Congress. One example is the reduction of land holdings of the Red Lake Reservation: Prior to 1863 the seven clans who comprise the Red Lake Chippewas owned and controlled more than 13 million acres of land in northwestern Minnesota. Land holding extended into North Dakota on the west and Canada on the north. Red Lake was and is a separate and distinct nation. The treaty of 1863 officially recognized Red Lake as separate and distinct with the signing of the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863. In this treaty, the Red Lake Nation ceded more than 11 million acres of the richest agricultural land in Minnesota in exchange for monetary compensation and a stipulation that the "President of the United States direct a certain sum of money to be applied to agricultural education and to other such beneficial purposes calculated to promote the prosperity and happiness of the Red Lake Indian."
In the Agreement of 1889 and the Agreement of 1904, Red Lake ceded another 2,256,152 acres and the Red Lake Nation was guaranteed that all benefits under existing treaties would not change. There are additional examples in the treaty deliberations with the other tribal nations.
Need for Historical Accuracy
Tribal sovereignty has not been understood, therefore a prevalent concern among American Indian scholars is to present an accurate history. The Institute for the Development of Indian Law defines sovereignty as the supreme power from which all specific political powers are derived. All of the sovereign powers were once held by tribes, not the U.S. government. Whatever power the federal government may exercise over Indian nations it received from the tribe, and not the other way around.
Included in the inherent powers are the following:
- The power to determine the form of government
- The power to define conditions for membership in the nation
- The power to administer justice and enforce laws
- The power to tax
- The power to regulate domestic relations of its members
- The power to regulate property tax
The law is clear that an Indian nation possesses all of the inherent powers of any sovereign government, except those powers that have been limited or qualified by treaties, agreements or an act of Congress.
Students will be able to function as responsible citizens if they know how sovereignty affects interactions of tribes with the federal government, the state of Minnesota and local governing units. All of the land in Minnesota was gained by the United States through a series of treaties with Anishinabe and Dakota sovereign nations. In order to understand issues of treaties, sovereignty or rights, one must first understand these very basic premises:
- No great war took these lands from American Indians.
- No American Indian leader gave Minnesota to the United States. The nations of Anishinabe and Dakota made concessions as to specific land uses by the United States. These concessions were clearly to benefit the settlers who wanted to establish businesses and homes on Indian lands. The United States was obligated to carry out the specifications of the treaties.
- Anishinabe and Dakota nations clearly retain any and all rights not specifically mentioned in the contracts. A common misconception is that the United States gave American Indian nations rights through treaties. In fact, American Indian nations gave land to the United States while retaining inherent rights and powers.
- Hirschfelder, Arlene. "Tribal Governments" "Termination and Self– Determination" in Happily May I Walk: American Indians and Alaska Natives Today. New York: Charles Scribner´s Sons, 1986.
- Cohen, Felix. Handbook of American Indian Law.
- Deloria, Vine Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins. New York: MacMillan Press, 1969.
- Of Utmost Good Faith. Bantam Books, 1971.
- We Talk: You Listen. Dell Publications, 1972.
- Hirschfelder, Arlene. "Treaty Rights" "Native American–U.S. Government Relations" "Tribal Governments" "Termination and Self–Determination" in Happily May I Walk: American Indians and Alaska Natives Today. New York: Charles Scribner´s Sons, 1986.
- Institute for the Development of American Indian Law. Indian Law Series. "Indian Sovereignty"
- "Indians and the U.S. Government" "The Federal–Indian Trust Relationship" "Indian Jurisdiction" "Oil and Gas" "Indian Water Rights." Phone: (405) 521–5188.
- Pevar, Steven. Indian Rights. Third Edition.
- CD–ROM: "Culture and History of the White Earth Ojibwe", 1993.
- Mahnomen Public Schools. P.O. Box 319. Mahnomen, MN 56557. Phone: (218) 985–2211.
- Video: "Indian Treaties with Status–Force–And Dignity." Color. 30 mm. Coleraine Public Schools.
- Video: "Tribal Governments from Traditional to Contemporary." Color. 30 mm. Coleraine Public Schools
- Video: "Tribal Governments: With Status, Force, and Dignity." Coleraine Public Schools. Indian Education.
- Video: Winds of Change. "Sovereignty" Color. Madison, WI: University Film and Video. University Film and Video. Phone: (612) 627–4270.