The fight to preserve tribal sovereignty and treaty rights has long been at the forefront of the Native American civil rights movement. The federal government has special trust obligations to protect tribal lands and resources, protect tribal rights to self-government, and provide services necessary for tribal survival and advancement.
There are currently 562 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. Federal recognition establishes a government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the tribe. Federally recognized tribes are eligible for federal assistance programs that fund initiatives like schools and health clinics and their lands, which are sometimes held in trusts by the U.S. government, are exempt from state and local jurisdiction.
- Brief history of U.S.-Tribal relations - American Indian Policy Center
- Treaty Rights and Responsibilities Basics - Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Native American Tribes in Virginia and North Carolina Are Close to Achieving Federal Recognition - 5/5/09
Federally recognized tribes are considered domestic dependent nations. Tribal sovereignty refers to tribes' right to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations; it further recognizes the existence of a government-to-government relationship between such tribes and the federal government.
- American Indian Tribal Sovereignty Primer - American Indian Policy Center
- Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative - National Congress of American Indians
The rights of Native Americans under tribal sovereignty were first established in three opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall, commonly referred to as the Marshall Trilogy: Johnson v. M'Intosh (1823), Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1832), and Worcester v. Georgia (1832).
Since then, the Supreme Court has heard a number of cases that have affected tribal sovereignty.
- Tribal Supreme Court Project - NCAI and NARF
- From Marshall to Marshall: The Supreme Court's Changing Stance on Tribal Sovereignty - American Bar Association
- Supreme Court Holds that Native American Tribes are not "Persons" Eligible to Bring §1983 Suits - Civil Rights Monitor Winter 2004
- Supreme Court Renders Mixed Outcome Regarding Government Liability for Breach of Trust in its Management of Resources Belonging to Native Americans - Civil Rights Monitor Winter 2004
In Bryan v. Itasca County (1976), the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state tax and regulatory laws do not apply to Native Americans living on reservations (tribal land). The decision allowed Indian tribes to open casinos and other gaming enterprises on reservations.
On many reservations, gaming has lifted tribal communities out of poverty by providing money for housing, schools, health care, and education, as well as stable jobs for community members. Currently, there are around 400 Indian gaming establishments in the United States.
- Indian Gaming Facts - National Indian Gaming Association
- Indian Gaming Industry Overview - IndianGaming.com
- Indian Gaming and Beyond: Tribal Economic Development and Diversification - South Dakota Law Review - Fall 2009