WHAT IS INDIAN TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY?
By Jim Marino, Contributing Write
Before the advent of Indian gambling casinos and the profits which enabled federally acknowledged Indian tribes to enter the world of big business, few people had ever heard of tribal sovereignty.
Generally the old European and international concept of sovereignty was associated with “nation states,” countries that saw their people and territory as having to answer to no other sovereign nation in their affairs.
Since the United States became a sovereign independent nation, it has exercised plenary power over all Indian tribes.
In the early days, there were only a few major recognized historic tribes, some with thousands of tribal members, unlike today, when tiny bands or groups of Indian descendants often claim to be a separate tribe.
In actuality, they are just splinter groups or families sharing a common or similar tribal ancestry.
In California, these tiny groups are no more than the remnants of families that at one time had a tribal ancestry.
The federal government’s Indian policies ran the gamut from treaties relations to welfare dependency.
In the beginning, when the European powers were struggling for hegemony, over the North American continent it was expedient to make treaties with various recognized tribes who were often allies in the war for control of what was called the American and Canadian territories.
As more and more Europeans migrated to the New World, the expansion of settlements often pushed tribes from territories they occupied and created conflicts between Native Indians and settlers.
Treaties then became a mechanism to make or insure a measure of peace.
As settlement became denser in the Eastern regions and migration westward increased, the conflicts could not be resolved by treaties alone, and in some cases treaties were broken.
This resulted in the disastrous relocation policies of the early to mid-1800s in which groups of Indians east of the Mississippi River were physically relocated to lands they were given by the government west of the Mississippi.
The injustices of the relocation policy and the continuing conflict between settlers were only interrupted by the Civil War.
Following the end of the Civil War, the great migration westward increased as did the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the east.
Conflicts continued with some of the warlike plains Indians and settlers seeking lands in the west
These were often reported, sensationalized and exaggerated in newspapers and books in eastern cities and towns seeking to sell copy.
Treaties with Indian tribes were difficult at best to manage and were heavily oriented toward agriculture.
In 1881, Congress passed a law prohibiting the making of any more treaties with Indian tribes.
The advent of the homestead era, where settlers (and Indians) could homestead lands from the public domain served as impetus for the Dawes Act of 1887.
This federal law provided that Indian tribes could allocate the land they held in common as tribal lands in parcels to tribal members as their own fee lands to farm or ranch as they saw fit.
The intent in what was then still an agrarian-based economy was for these Indians to become self-sufficient and, essentially, to assimilate into the American economy and society.
Individual Indians could also homestead lands under a procedure established by the Indian Homestead Act.
By the terms of the Dawes Act, once a tribe had allotted all of its tribal land to its tribal members, the tribe ceased to have any tribal authority and political identity.
During that period, from the Dawes Act to 1921, there was much confusion in federal Indian policy, which conflicted with the earlier “treaty” policy that had created “reservations” for the occupation and control of tribal entitles.
The relocation policy also created “reservations” for the purposes of a recognized tribe of Indians to occupy and control, free from any outside interference in internal tribal affairs.
These reservations were lands ceded to tribes and to which some tribes were relocated.
Others voluntarily populated these lands set aside for their use and occupation.
During this same period, the U.S. government sought to make individual Indians full citizens of the United States, often creating fictitious or vague rationales for doing so.
Finally, in 1921, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which made each individual Indian a full citizen of the United States.