Tribal Government | 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 decision–making processes to promote personal growth and the well–being of society;
Know how to manage a household or business. Understanding the effective management of resources in a household, business, community, and government.
Identify the complex structure and recognize the validity and authority of sovereign tribal government.
This outcome includes:
- studying the history of tribal government.
- understanding the structures of tribal government.
- understanding the concept of sovereignty as related to tribal government.
- knowing the powers, rights and responsibilities of tribal governments.
- understanding the economic capabilities of tribal governments.
All students should learn that American Indians have systems of tribal government that have powers, rights and responsibilities based on tribal constitutions agreed to by the people. Students must learn that the study of tribal government is equally as important as the study of federal, state and local governments. This information will enable students to function as responsible citizens of their communities.
Cultural Content/American Indian World View
American Indian tribes in the United States are sovereign nations. These Nations and governments have always existed. The present forms of tribal government have evolved over time.
Teacher Background Information
There are over 500 American Indian tribes in the United States that are sovereign nations. The term tribe (which is not an American Indian term) refers to a group of people who have a common ancestry. They speak the same language and share a common history and culture. Tribe also refers to a political group whose members live together on the same reservation or community and who are represented by a tribal government. Tribes are also sovereign nations.
Description of Tribal Government
Minnesota Tribal Governments. Each of the seven Anishinabe reservations and four Dakota communities in Minnesota have tribal governments. The tribal governments in Minnesota are:
- Bois Forte Reservation. Reservation Business Committee includes the Chair, Secretary/Treasurer and three committee members. Members are elected to serve four–year terms. Term expires June.
- Fond du Lac Reservation. Reservation Business Committee includes the Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, and three representatives. Members are elected to serve four–year terms. Term expires June.
- Grand Portage Reservation. Reservation Business Committee include the Chair, Secretary/Treasurer and three at large members. Members are elected for four–year terms. Term expires June.
- Leech Lake Reservation. Reservation Business committee includes the Chair, Secretary/Treasurer and three district representatives. Members are elected to serve four–year terms. Term expires June.
- Mille Lacs Reservation. Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches. Chief Executive, Speaker of the Assembly, Band Assembly, Secretary/Treasurer, Chief Justice. Term expires June.
- The Red Lake Nation is not a participating member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The Tribal Council, consisting of 11 members is Red Lake´s governing body. Council members include the Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and two representatives each from the four districts which comprise the reservation. Term expires May.
- White Earth. Tribal Council includes the Chair, Secretary/Treasurer and three council members. Members elected for four–year terms. Term expires June.
The four Dakota communities of Minnesota each have their own tribal government.
- Prairie Island Sioux Community. The governing body is the Community Council consisting of five members elected to office for two–year terms. The President of the Council term expires November.
- Shakopee–Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The governing body is the General Council which includes all eligible enrolled tribal members. The Business Council, which runs the day to day affairs of the community, are elected to office by the General Council to serve four year terms. The Business Council Officers include the Chair, Vice–Chair and Secretary. Term expires January.
- The Lower Sioux Community has a five member governing body. Each council member serves a two–year term of office. Term expires July.
- The Upper Sioux Community is governed by a Board of Trustees that includes the Chair, Vice–Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, and three at large members elected to serve four year terms. Term expires May.
American Indian tribes are sovereign nations. As nations within the nation of the United States, tribes have the right to form and maintain tribal governments. Tribes have the right to decide what form of government they want. Many have written constitutions and three branches of government. Tribal governments in Minnesota are called by various names such as Tribal Council, Reservation Business Committee or Business Council. Officials are either elected to serve 2–4 year terms of office by eligible voting tribal members. Heads of tribal government are called Chairman, Chairperson, President or Chief Executive. Tribal Councils vary in size. Each nation operates by a set of laws and codes approved by the governing body. While maintaining their own tribal governments, six of the seven Anishinabe reservations joined together under provisions of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act to form the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is a confederacy of the six participating reservations. This organization is governed by a Tribal Executive Committee. The Tribal Executive committee is composed of 12 members including the Tribal Chair and Secretary/Treasurer from each of the six reservations.
Powers of Indian Tribes
- Power to establish a form of government
- Power to determine membership
- Police power
- Power to administer justice
- Power to exclude persons from the reservation
- Power to charter business organizations
- Power to Determine Membership
Tribes have the inherent right to decide who is eligible for tribal membership. For example, the seven Anishinabe tribal governments require a person to have a minimum of ¼ tribal blood quantum. Some tribes consider anyone eligible for membership who is a descendent of a tribal member.
Plenary power of Congress
The courts have said that the power of Congress in Indian affairs is plenary (full or complete) and Congressional power may be great but it is not absolute. Further, the courts have said that Congressional power in Indian affairs is limited by the United States Constitution. "At one time it was clear who had jurisdiction over Indian land and people – Indian people governed themselves, period. How has it happened then, that other governments now have power or jurisdiction over Indian people and land?"
"All governments receive their power from the people and sometimes from spiritual sources. This power may be written down in a form of a constitution or it may be handed down orally and traditionally. An ´Indian government´ which receives its power only from the United States or a state is not a true Indian government."
"The mechanism for the destruction of Indian jurisdiction was laid in the United States Constitution, adopted in 1789. The Constitution did not, in itself, take away any Indian authority, but it gave to Congress and the Executive Branch of the federal government the authority which was later used to invade Indian jurisdiction...it is important to realize that the Constitution does not actually give the federal government any authority to govern Indian people in Indian territory. Yet it is often said that Congress has ´plenary´ power (meaning complete authority) to govern Indians and Indian land, based upon one or more of these provisions in the Constitution...Congress, as well as the Executive Branch, has been largely free to infringe on Indian jurisdiction and sovereignty even without any clear Constitutional power to do so... "In the early years, Congress never sought to assert plenary power or general authority over Indian governments of Indian territory. Indian jurisdiction was, officially at least, carefully respected...during this early period, several states, particularly New York and Georgia, repeatedly invaded Indian jurisdiction in spite of treaties and federal laws limiting state jurisdiction, Indian people were commonly arrested and tried by state courts for alleged offenses in Indian territory. Although these were ´official´ acts, they were of the same legal character as vigilante violence against Indians. These illegal acts by the states were eventually brought partially under control by the federal government and they are no longer viewed as valid legal acts..."
– Rethinking Indian Law. Compiled and Edited by the National Lawyers Guild, Committee on Native American Struggles, 17th Floor, 853 Broadway, New York. NY 10003.
Laws and Law Enforcement
Tribal governments have the power to make laws and enforce laws for tribal members living on the reservation. Tribes generally have courts, a police force, and security facilities. Tribal governments can tax tribal members and they have the right to tax non–Indians who lease Indian lands. They can tax private companies who extract resources on tribal lands. Tribal governments make decisions about civil disputes which take place on reservation land. However, federal law enforcement officials handle major crimes which take place on Indian lands.
Indian reservations are located within or in some cases across state boundaries. Indian lands are not a part of state lands. States, however, do not have the right to control the activities of tribal governments or tribal members who live on reservation lands. They do not have this right because Indian lands are not part of state lands. Indian lands are not owned by the federal government but they are held in trust by the federal government. States cannot regulate tribal businesses or tax incomes derived from these businesses. In addition, states cannot require American Indians to pay state taxes on reservation lands, income tribal members obtain while working on reservation land, or items purchased on these lands.
Tribal – Federal Relationship
The relationship between tribal governments and the federal government is very complex. The United States recognizes Indian tribes as separate nations. The tribes as nations have a government–to–government relationship with the United States. Congress has authorized the Secretary of Interior to oversee Indian trust lands. These are lands held in trust for Indian tribes to protect the lands from being sold to non–Indians. This trust responsibility stems from treaties, agreements and promises made by the federal government to the tribes. Rights were not given to the tribes. American Indian tribes have always had rights.
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Within the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is historically the agency interacting with tribal governments. The Bureau´s central office is located in Washington D.C. with area offices located throughout the country. One is in Minneapolis. Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies are located on Indian reservations. There are agencies in Cass Lake and Red Lake. Tribal governments contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other government agencies for the delivery of services to the tribes. In most cases, these services were negotiated with the tribes though treaties and agreements.
Tribal – Federal Court Relationship
Tribal governments also have a relationship with federal courts. These courts make legal decisions which affect Indian reservation land, water and mineral resources, hunting and fishing rights and a number of other important issues.
Tribal – State Relationships Public Law 280
Passed in 1953, P.L. 280 ushered in the "termination" phase of federal Indian affairs. It gave Wisconsin, Oregon, California, Minnesota and Nebraska criminal and civil jurisdiction in Indian Country and provided a mechanism by which the states could assume permanent jurisdiction over Indian nations. The law applied to most of the Indian land within the boundaries of those five states except Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota and Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. The criterion for applying P.L. 280 was whether or not the United States judged that certain Indian nations were capable of handling their own affairs. The U.S. excluded those tribes which had law and order organizations that functioned in a reasonably satisfactory manner.
Termination of the federal relationship with the Menominees, Klamaths, and other Indian nations soon followed.
By giving jurisdiction to the states without the consent of affected Indian nations, the United States was blatantly ignoring American Indian sovereignty and in many cases, ignoring treaties. Unfortunately, the legality of P.L. 280 has never fully been questioned by U.S. courts.
Examples of Tribal Programs and Services
In 1975, the Congress passed the Indian Self–Determination and Education Assistance Act. This allows tribes to exercise self–determination by performing most of the functions formerly provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS). Under the contracts, the federal government provides the funding and the tribes perform the function. In 1994, the Self–Governance Act passed Congress. Under this act, tribes put all programs in one extensive compact with the U.S. This is the closest thing tribes have to treaties in this century.
Many tribes operate schools. In 1975 the Indian Self–Determination and Education Assistance Act provided that several functions performed by the BIA could be turned over to tribes. Schools with American Indian students attending school off the reservation can receive Johnson–O´Malley funds that can be utilized to provide special programs for those students.
Four of the Tribal Governments operate BIA funded Tribal Grant Schools that provide accredited K–12 educational programs.
- Fond du Lac – Fond du Lac Ojibway School
- Leech Lake – Bug O Ne Ge Shig School
- Mille Lacs – Nay At Shing School
- White Earth – Circle of Life School
- There are Public Schools located on the:
- Red Lake Reservation serving K–12 students,
- Nett Lake Reservation serving K–6 students,
- White Earth Reservation (Pine Point) serving K–8 students.
In 1978, the Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. Under the ICWA a preference was established when placing American Indian children in foster care or adoptive placement. Tribes operate social service programs and provide for the chemical dependency, mental health and counseling needs of members.
American Indians have the highest rates of tuberculosis, diabetes and fetal alcohol syndrome of any ethnic group. Under several treaties, the U.S. had an obligation to provide health care to American Indians. Under the Snyder Act in 1921, a permanent authorization for the BIA to provide health care to American Indians was established. This was transferred to the Public Health Service in 1956. Today American Indian Health Service is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
There are currently 93,000 homeless or underhoused American Indians. On most reservations, Indian Housing authorities exist to provide housing. These are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Although this mechanism to provide housing was established in 1937, it was not until 1961 that American Indians were included. The BIA operates a housing improvement program.
Most reservations provide noon meals for senior citizens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides commodity foods for American Indian tribes.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court established in the Cabazon case, the principle that Indian tribes have the right to have gaming. The principles of the Cabazon case were applied by the Congress in the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Under the Gaming Act, gaming is divided into three classes:
- Class I – traditional games
- Class II – bingo and pulltabs
- Class III – sometimes includes casino games
- Class III gaming is established when tribes and states negotiate a compact.
Most of the Tribal Governments manage Natural Resource Programs that provide wetlands management, waterfowl, fish, and game management, forestry services, gathering of native plants, water quality and a variety of other associated programs. American Indians initiated the development of health, human services and education programs.
American Indians survived by producing or harvesting from the environment only what was needed for the well–being of the people. The concept of owning land and resources to generate profit was a foreign concept. Yet, it is a concept that´s at the heart of the United States economic system. In many ways the concept is a hurdle that prevents American Indians from successfully entering the mainstream economy. On the other hand, it is a challenge that many American Indian communities are meeting while building their own models of economic development.
–Paragraph above is adapted from Native Models for Business Success, a Junior Achievement publication
- Hirschfelder, Arlene. "Tribal Governments," "Reservation Resources," "Economic Life," "Native American – U. S. Government Relations" "Native American – State Government Relations" in Happily May I Walk. American Indians and Alaska Natives Today. New York: Charles Scribner´s Sons, 1986.
- Computer Program: Anoka–Hennepin Indian Education Program. Indian Nations of the Upper Midwest. Vol. 1. Includes data on the tribal governments of the 45 reservations and communities of the Upper Midwest, 1998. Phone: (612) 422–5784.
- Ebbot, Elizabeth. Indians in Minnesota. League of Women Voters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.
- Institute for the Development of Indian Law. "Indian Sovereignty" "Indians and the U.S. Government" "The Federal Indian Trust Relationship" "Indian Jurisdiction." Oklahoma City: Native American Legal Resource Center. Phone: (703) 938–7822.
- Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Government, 1975. Also available through the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Reservation History Series which includes information about tribal governments on select reservations in Minnesota. Contact Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Cass Lake, MN.
- Video: "Tribal Government: With Status, Force, and Dignity." Produced by Bruce Baird. Indian Education. Coleraine Public Schools.
- Video: Winds of Change. "Sovereignty" Color. Wisconsin Public Broadcasting Center. Madison, WI: University Film and Video. Phone: 612) 627–4270.