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The Sovereignty of Indian Tribes

The sovereignty of Indian Tribes in the United States has been an unsolved problem for many decades. Native Americans living on the lands of their ancestors are facing the modern world issues that in the majority of cases cause the contradictions to the traditional life they want to live and the laws they want to follow. There are some questions within the problem of sovereignty raised time after time due to their constant urgency that would be discussed in the present essay.

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There are 566 federally recognized tribes living within the territory of the USA nowadays (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2005, par.1). The representatives of tribes claim to live on the land of their ancestors who lived here long before the people came. They claim the right to follow their traditions, laws; they claim that other persons who are visiting their territories have to follow their laws too. In the majority of tribal lands, people live by their laws there even are tribal courts to solve some issues, and the existence and legitimacy of these courts are improved by the Congress. The problem is that when it comes to serious crimes or questions of law it is hard to determine how to act. The tribe’s lands are within the borders of the state, and the state has its particular laws. What if they will meet a contradiction? Can Indian tribal laws be applied to a non-Indian? This issue already makes things complex. And this is not to mention Federal statutes. What about the fact that every of 566 recognized tribes has its laws and traditions that slightly differ? Should the right of total self-governance be provided to each of them? In that case, it would make it even worse.

Another issue is that Indian tribes do not pay taxes though some Indian casinos get a significant amount of money through their activity (Public Broadcasting Service, 2006, par.5). But all the tribes recognized by the government are funded from the Burro of Indian Affairs, thus from the budget. The state government does not take this fact eagerly, because the tribal lands within the territory of the state require certain infrastructure, like roads that are also used by other people. Creating and maintaining the infrastructure requires costs that are taken from the taxpayers pockets. Tribes do not pay gasoline taxes and taxes for cigarettes they are manufacturing on their lands as well.

Managing lands by tribes also brings up a certain amount of questions. Traditional fishing and hunting and applying other traditional means of getting food supplies are usually in the contradiction with state laws that regulate natural resources preservation. As well as creating some industrial objects that tribal facilities cannot maintain properly, like opening a nuclear waste dump by one of the tribes in Utah. What about some species that are about to extinct and that used to be the source of food or fur for Tribes that inhabit the land, and the tribe claims to hunt the species?

There are many questions raised by the issue of tribal sovereignty nowadays, and they are not likely to be solved in the nearest future. Some steps can be made to improve the situation. They need unification of tribal claims and demands, clearing of their position on certain questions and picking up the representatives who can clearly formulate steps and major issues and acceptable ways of overcoming them. This act could be the significant breakthrough towards the permanent embassy in Washington D.C.


National Conference of State Legislatures. (2005). Federal and State Recognized Tribes. Web.

Public Broadcasting Service. (2006).Tribal Sovereignty. Web.

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