View Full Version : How Soviegn are American Indian Reservations?
In wake of the Minnasota shooting, it's been mentioned elsewhere that American Indian Reservations are Soviegn nations. My question is: How far does that extend? They can set up casinos are sell fireworks, but could they build an arms industry, grow huge fields of pot or aid fugutives from justice if they so chose to(not that I'm saying they would, but for the sake of arguement)?
Presumably there would be some kind of diplomatic agreement between the US state department and the Reservation Government concerning such issues?
03-23-2005, 05:34 PM
I'm glad someone started this. I was listening to NPR this AM, and there was a (presumably) Native American woman going on about how the US Constitution wasn't in effect on reservations. I wanted to reach thru my radio and grab her by the throat.
At any rate, I'd be curious if any of our legal scholars here can define just how "sovereign" they are, and if it varies between different reservations.
03-23-2005, 09:36 PM
03-24-2005, 01:03 AM
It is my understanding that the Indian reservations are as sovereign as the federal government permits them to be.
To a lesser extent, this applies to state and local government as well. For example, here in Connecticut, two tribes have been allowed by the state to open casinos. Both of them, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (http://www.foxwoods.com/TheMashantucketPequots/Home/) which operates Foxwoods (http://www.foxwoods.com/), and the Mohegan Tribe (http://www.mohegan.nsn.us/) which operates Mohegan Sun (http://www.mohegansun.com/index.jsp), pay 25% of their slots revenue to the State of Connecticut. This was a condition imposed on the tribes by the state before they were permitted to open a casino in the first place. Were the tribes truly sovereign entities, they would not need to pay this tribute to the state.
Also, the tribes have no armed forces, do not defend their borders, do not conduct foreign policy, and are not recognized by foreign powers as being sovereign. In short, they have been granted back some limited sovereignty by the U.S. government (after a long history of erosion of their sovereignty), which can be rescinded at any time.
Here's a website with some more info about Indian sovereignty:
03-24-2005, 08:10 AM
The reason there hasn't been a ton of chatter on this topic (unlike the bull session Gfactor, Biildo, and I have been having in the federalism thread) is because it's really complicated and I, for one, don't really know the answers. I agree with robby that tribes are not truly "sovereign" in that they aren't completely masters of their own fate, they don't have their own money, army, foreign policy, etc. (One might remember a gaffe President Bush made a few months ago in which he got this wrong.) But, like the 50 states, they're not entirely co-ordinate entities of the federal government, either.
In my limited experience, the short answer is that to large extent, tribal sovreignity is at the sufferance of the federal government in a way that state sovreignity is not. The link robby provides at the end of his post is really interesting, and it shows that the history of Indian sovreignity has largely been one of diminishing rights.
Of course, the "highlight" of Indian sovreignity was the case of Worcester v. Georgia, where the Supreme Court (under Chief Justice Marshall) held in 1832 that the state and federal governments had essentially no authority on the reservations (in particular, the Cherokee res. in Georgia). President Andrew Jackson's famously (or infamously) responded "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." A few years later, incontravention of the Court's ruling, Jackson sent in the Army and evicted the Cherokee, forcing them on the "Trail of Tears," a forced march to Oklahoma. 4,000 Cherokee, just shy of a quarter of the population, died on the march.
03-24-2005, 01:51 PM
If you want a very simplistic view, consider each tribe to be like a little US State. Subject to Federal Laws, as much as States are, in general. Now, since they are small, and they are often surrounded by a "real" State, they often give up some of their soverienity in order to get along.
03-24-2005, 02:16 PM
An interesting question, I was just about to post something tangently related. I hope that I am not hijacking too much. If so, please ask me to start my own thread.
A acquantance of mine is going on a "spiritual journey" on an Indian reservation. It involves taking some mind-altering substances (I am guessing peyote, or mushrooms.) I was wondering if this were legal, even on a reservation. (Privately, I'm also wondering if this is true, because the man is known to tell tall tales...)
03-24-2005, 02:28 PM
I'm sure everyone has seen this... (http://kontraband.com/show/show.asp?ID=1525)
03-24-2005, 02:29 PM
Sorry, I know it's not appropriate given the topic, but I couldn't help it.
03-24-2005, 03:03 PM
From what I've seen the sovereignity of the reservations is very much determined by the political expediencies involved.
For instance, No Child Left Behind Act grants are given to the states. The states don't pass the money on to the reservation school systems because, after all, they are sovereign.
On the other hand, the Bureau of Indian Affairs routinely violates any putative sovereignity in ways that would never be tolerated by the states.
03-24-2005, 06:56 PM
The degree to which Indian groups are sovereign is still being resolved one court case at a time.
The FBI came to our area of the coutry looking for an escaped fugitive from a federal penitentiary. They knew he was back on Indian land but were refused entry. They took rooms in town and, knowing he wouldn't be able to control himself for long, waited. He didn't (theft and rape) and the FBI was invited in to make the arrest.
On the other hand, the state of New Mexico tries to control things like Indian water usage and others states probably do as well. The Indians say they have as much a right (if not more) to build a golf course as anyone and usually proceed anyway. Some of that is in the courts now.
And there's the whole issue of Indian gaming and how much revenues they have to pay the state (or should they have to be pay anything?).
Some Indians like the "helping" hand of the Federal government (BIA). Others would like more control over their own affairs and the massive trust fund held in their name.
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