Letters to the Editor

What are the references in law?

As I understand it, sovereignty for Native people has long been an issue. I am not sure it has ever been granted. If so, what are the references in federal law?

Doug Lyons

Editor’s note: Sovereignty, or self-government, is addressed in an extensive body of court decisions referred to as American Indian law.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby ...”

Representatives of the U.S. negotiated treaties with indigenous leaders. Those treaties made land available for non-Native settlement. Indigenous leaders reserved for themselves and their descendants land and the right to fish, gather and hunt in their usual and accustomed territories. They did not sign away their right to govern on their land.

That’s why we have local government, county government, state government, federal government, and tribal government.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Chairman W. Ron Allen said this in “The State of the Native Nations” (Oxford University Press):
“Tribal governments are sovereign governments. This means that we have the authority as Indian peoples to control our own destinies. The Tribe controls who are its citizens. We determine what laws will control the interests of our community. Our governments have jurisdiction over our own affairs. This is what sovereignty means.”


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