Editorial on Indigenous sovereignty

Tribal leaders and Indians talk a lot about sovereignty. The United States and all European countries that visited this continent recognized the sovereign and political existence of Indian tribes by entering treaties with tribal governments.

I define sovereignty as the power a political entity exercises over its defined territory and the people who live and visit that territory and the events that happen there. When you visit another state in the USA you have impliedly consented to that state government exercising its sovereign powers over you.

You can be criminally and civilly prosecuted by that state and it can regulate and control many of your actions.

Tribal governments also exercise this kind of power although to a lesser extent. The U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts have defined many of the parameters and limits of tribal sovereignty.

The editors of Indian Country Today wrote about tribal sovereignty, in part:

“Sovereignty is a much used, but foreign word for indigenous communities. The concept of sovereignty comes from European legal and political theory, where it suggests absolute political authority and territoriality. Contemporary indigenous nations have taken up the idea of sovereignty, as part of the discussion to protect land and inherent government authority.

Nevertheless, the word sovereignty does not have an equivalent in most indigenous languages. Sovereignty implies a sense of secular power and centralized authority that is not found among most indigenous peoples. The word also implies more precise territorial and political boundaries, and a sense of ownership that most indigenous peoples might find too self-centered. The European national struggles over territory emerged over perceived political and territorial densities, where rival nations or groups struggled to establish greater territorial and political control.
Sovereignty is only one dimension within the cosmological responsibilities of indigenous governments.

Indigenous communities understood territory and political authority, but in dramatically different ways than the Europeans. Indigenous nations did not fight primarily over land. Communities believed the Creator gave the people specific land to live on. Through migration teachings, or creation teachings, the land was presented as a gift to the people. The land was a means for life and livelihood. The people used the land, but maintained its ability to sustain life and support the well-being of the community. . . .”

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