The Exercise of true tribal sovereignty
By Benjamin Nuvamsa
The exercise of tribal sovereignty is important as tribal nations continue to build their capacity to exercise their powers of self-government, tribal self-determination, and economic self-determination. Most Indian tribes were independent, self-governing tribes long before their contact with European nations, but the United States Supreme Court narrowed the extent of tribal sovereignty through its rulings.
For instance, the Cherokee cases referred to as the Marshall Trilogy. Tribal sovereignty was also affected in the treaties between tribes and the United States.
Now, more than ever, exercising tribal sovereignty is becoming vitally important especially with the federal government devolving its responsibilities to the tribes; and with the federal government abrogating its trust and treaty obligations to the tribes; and not honoring the true government-to-government relationships with tribes. Exercising tribal sovereignty, however, is a double-edged sword, one that must be exercised effectively and with care.
But what is tribal sovereignty? American attorney Felix Cohen defines it, in part, as “…the principle that those powers, which are lawfully vested in an Indian tribe are not, in general, delegated powers granted by express acts of Congress, but rather inherent powers of a limited sovereignty that has never been extinguished. Each Indian tribe begins its relationship with the federal government as a sovereign power, recognized as such in treaty and legislation.
The powers of sovereignty have been limited from time to time by special treaties and laws designed to take from the Indian tribes control of matters which, in the judgment of Congress, these tribes could no longer be safely permitted to handle. The statutes of Congress, then, must be examined to determine the limitations of tribal sovereignty rather than to determine its sources or its positive content. What is not expressly limited remains within the domain of tribal sovereignty.”
Tribal Capacity Building
As tribal governments evolve and change, so does the institutional knowledge of their inherent sovereign rights and their capacity to govern. This is where the KIVA Institute LLC can step in to provide training and capacity building to assist tribes’ understanding and invoke their sovereign rights of self-determination, self-governance and economic self-determination.
After decades of oppression, genocide, mistreatment and challenges to tribal sovereignty, the United States Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination Act in 1975 to declare that termination of federal tribal recognition was a failure; to stress continuing importance of federal trust responsibility to tribes; and to permit tribes to manage their own affairs with maximum degree of autonomy.
Thus, the Indian Self-Determination Act is about tribal sovereignty. Agreements under the act are “government-to-government agreements.”
They are not federal procurement agreements. But many tribes, and their federal service providers, have long misunderstood and misapplied the true intent of the act. It is the time for tribal nations to exercise their true sovereignty by invoking their rights under the Self-Determination Act.
About KIVA Institute LLC
KIVA is a 100 percent Native American owned and operated training and consulting company dedicated to “Building Capacity in Indian Country.” It has unique knowledge and experience in the Indian Self-Determination Act. It has practical experience in how tribal governments operate.
KIVA provides training and consulting services in the areas of finance and accounting, indirect costs, audit preparation, indirect cost rate proposals, grant writing, contract and grant management, management and supervision, strategic planning, tribal council and board roles and responsibilities, Robert’s Rules of Order, Indian law, economic developing and development of renewable energy resources.
Benjamin Nuvamsa, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, is founder and president/CEO of KIVA. Nuvamsa was the primary official who developed the regulations and training to implement the Indian Self-Determination Act for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.