State and Tribal Relationships
Strong State-Tribal relationships can advance state policy with thousands of years of ongoing Indigenous ecological knowledge and research. State and Tribal collaborations can offer mutual benefits across reduced legal conflict, identifying redundancies, and increased federal funding. While states have no authority over Tribal nations unless granted by Congress, all states have treaty obligations to Tribal nations, whose Tribal sovereignty exceeds state sovereignty. The relationship between Tribal nations, states, and the federal government is complicated, but recognizing Tribal sovereignty can help states avoid costly mistakes.
Building State-Tribal Collaboration
Know the Nations
Identify Tribal governments based within state boundaries and Tribes with ancestral, historic, and contemporary state ties. States may have Tribal relations offices or councils with this knowledge, and state or regional inter-Tribal councils may also assist.
Reach Out Respectfully
Tribal leaders are leaders of sovereign nations, have powers exceeding governors, and should be treated as such. It is often best to start by contacting Tribal offices and listening at public Tribal council meetings. The BIA Office serving a Tribe can often provide appropriate contact information.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for uplifting Tribal sovereignty, the following options may be relevant to consider with Tribal partners.
- Respect Jurisdiction: Washington H.B.2233 allows Tribal governments to end state interference in Tribal court jurisdiction. Many states still claim jurisdiction over Tribal citizens and lands set by now-denounced efforts to renege on treaties and forcibly assimilate Tribes.
- Require Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC): Washington S.B.5373 would reinforce existing requirements to consult with Tribes and direct state agencies to seek FPIC.
- Establish Intergovernmental Assemblies: Maine L.D.2115 would create an assembly of state and Tribal representatives to develop and maintain government-to-government relationships.
- Give Land Back: Returning land to Tribal control to improves biodiversity, increases land access for all, and restores social and decision-making powers to Tribal nations. California A.B.408 would encourage state-Tribal co-management and land return.
- Honor Indigenous Land Access: Treaty rights often include free movement and subsistence on land. Minnesota improved treaty compliance with free state parks access for Tribal citizens, also proposed in Nevada A.B.84, Arizona A.B.2237, Maine L.D.25 and South Dakota H.B.1142.