Why Tribal Sovereignty Matters for Native Americans

Why Tribal Sovereignty Matters for Native Americans

Tribal sovereignty is our right. Sovereignty is inherent. It’s how we govern ourselves and protect our traditions as Indigenous peoples in the United States. Native Americans have fought for this right for centuries. It’s vital to our future.

Long ago, treaties were made between tribes and the U.S. government. These treaties are promises. They say that our tribes can govern themselves. This means we make our laws and handle our affairs.

Over the years, various Supreme Courts have continued to affirm tribal sovereignty. One seminal case is Worcester v. Georgia (1832), where the Supreme Court recognized tribes as “distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights” as sovereign entities. The court ruled that the laws of Georgia could not extend into Cherokee territory, reinforcing the notion that tribes have inherent sovereignty.

Celebrated on the fourth Monday in April, Navajo “Sovereignty Day” commemorates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Navajo Tribe, which affirmed the Navajo Nation’s right to enact laws independently, particularly regarding taxation. This day celebrates the Navajo Nation’s recognized autonomy and the legitimacy of its freely elected Tribal Council. In contrast, June 1st marks the signing of the Treaty of 1868, celebrating the restoration of their lands and self-governance.


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The White Mountain Apache Tribe has a constitution created under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and governs itself through a tribal council.

For the Oglala, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, resulted in the Oglala and other Lakota bands forfeiting large amounts of land and rights to the United States in exchange for provisions. For the Osage, signed on November 10, 1808, this treaty resulted in the Osage ceding a large portion of their land in present-day Missouri. It established a buffer line between the Osage and new European-American settlers in the Missouri Territory. It also required that the U.S. president approve all future land sales and cessions by the Osage.

Today, we still stand up for our rights, want to make sure our voices are heard and protect our lands, cultures, and freedoms.

When treaties are broken between the U.S. government and Native American tribes, it leads to profound repercussions, including loss of land, resources, and cultural heritage, alongside erosion of trust and ongoing legal and social conflicts.

Trust goes both ways, but it starts with us. We must honor our treaties, collaborate, take reparative actions, and deepen our understanding of our Indigenous rights and history.

Tribal sovereignty is about respect. It’s about honoring the promises made long ago. It’s about letting us, Native people, decide our future.

We need to keep talking about tribal sovereignty. We need to teach others why it’s important. By understanding our history and our rights, we can build a stronger future for all Native Americans.

Let’s stand together for tribal sovereignty. It’s our right, our heritage, and our path forward.


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