Sovereign Nations

Federally Recognized Tribal Governments are sovereign nations.

Sovereignty is a legal word for an ordinary concept—the authority to self-govern. Hundreds of treaties, along with the Supreme Court, the President, and Congress, have repeatedly affirmed that tribal nations retain their inherent powers of self-government. These treaties, executive orders, and laws have created a fundamental contract between tribes and the United States.

The Congress shall have the power to…regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

- Article 1, Section 8, United States Constitution

For the federal government, U.S. Tribal sovereignty means that tribes possess all powers of self-government except those relinquished under treaty with the United States, those that Congress has expressly extinguished, and those that federal courts have ruled are subject to existing federal law or are inconsistent with overriding national policies.

This also means that federally recognized tribes are protected from encroachment by other sovereigns, such as the states or other countries. Limitations on tribal self-government are few but do include the same limitations applicable to states, such as to make war, engage in foreign relations, or print and issue currency.

Image of part of the first page of the U.S. Constitution