- “Tribal Sovereignty” refers to the legal recognition in the United States of America law of the inherent sovereignty of American Indian Nations. The law applied to American Indians by the US government is called Federal Indian Law. Although undermined by various Acts, legal decisions, and policies, it still stands to this day. Indian reservations are recognized as what can be termed “nations within.” Each has its own government and sovereign powers to make laws, tax, etc. and most also have their own tribal justice system, also based upon their inherent powers. As a result of this status, many programs of a general nature to states and their subdivisions do not apply to Indian nations unless specifically mentioned or for which there is specific legislation directed toward Indian nations. When issues like healthcare, housing, and clean water, for example are brought up in a multicultural, marginalized community context, the solutions offered will only apply to Indian nations if there are specific provisions for Indian nations.
It is important to understand that tribal sovereignty is not delegated from the US government. Treaties do not create tribal sovereignty. Treaties are an affirmation between Indian nations and nation-states. They are not contracts executed solely under nation-state laws and frameworks. When we speak of treaty rights, we are not saying our rights come from the relevant treaty, but rather, that the relevant treaty is a mutual recognition of rights that already existed and continue to exist under the terms of the treaty.
There are at present a complex set of laws and legal decisions that limit tribal sovereignty, but do not eliminate it. Some of the key laws and policies include Treaty making; the recognition of inherent sovereignty; Plenary Power and Political Question doctrine; the Dawes Allotment Act; The Indian Reorganization Act; Termination Policy inclusive of Public Law 280 and Relocation; the Indian Civil Rights Act; The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act; The Self Determination Act; the Oliphant decision; and the Montana decision. Each of this merit their own definitions, but looked at collectively, are efforts to fully assimilate Indian nations and transform them into corporate and municipal entities under state jurisdiction and control.
- “Indigenous Sovereignty” is what is referred to as a term of art. It is distinguishable from Tribal Sovereignty in that it is not a nation-state recognition of inherent sovereignty under nation-state dominion. Rather, it arises from Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, belonging to each Indigenous nation, tribe, first nation, community, etc. It consists of spiritual ways, culture, language, social and legal systems, political structures, and inherent relationships with lands, waters and all upon them. Indigenous sovereignty exists regardless of what the nation-state does or does not do. It continues as long as the People that are a part of it continue.
Efforts to destroy our foods is an attack of our inherent food sovereignty which is connected to our respective spiritual ways, culture, language, social and legal systems, political structures, and inherent relationships with lands, waters and all upon them.
Efforts to engage in destructive actions like fossil fuel extraction, fossil fuel pipeline infrastructures crossing across Indigenous territories, lands and waterways, uranium mining and other mining, attack our traditional ecological knowledge which is connected to our respective spiritual ways, culture, language, social and legal systems, political structures, and inherent relationships with lands, waters and all upon them.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Peoples are a result of not caring by the nation-state and dehumanizing our women, as if their lives mean nothing. This is a murderous assault that is also an attack on our respective spiritual ways, culture, language, social and legal systems, political structures, and inherent relationships with lands, waters and all upon them.
Indigenous Sovereignty links Indigenous Environmental Justice; anti-racism; Indigenous Just Transition; social equity and justice; opposition to the commodification and financialization of nature (and carbon specifically through carbon trading, carbon pricing, carbon taxing, polluter “pays”); the Rights of Mother Earth; desecration of sacred sites; destruction and assaults on lands and waters; and protecting and nurturing tribal sovereignty.