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FAQ: Sovereignty

What is tribal sovereignty?
The U.S. Constitution recognizes Indian tribes as distinct political bodies, separate from the individual states and from other foreign nations. To understand what tribal sovereignty means today, one must understand the historical relationship between Indian tribes and other governments. See: Sovereignty Statement


Racial vs. political groups
Indian people and tribes often are treated differently under U.S. laws, but such treatment has nothing to do with racial classification. While Indians and non-Indians are different races, Congress and the courts have made clear that separate treatment of Indians is based on their status as separate political – not racial – groups.
See:Race


Inherent sovereignty
Indian tribal governments, which existed long before Europeans arrived on the North American continent, have inherent sovereignty, meaning the authority to govern is not granted by another government, but by the consent of the people who are governed.
See:Inherent Sovereignty


Treaties/boundaries of Oneida Indian Nation lands
The text of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua states that the Oneida Indian Nation “shall be secure in their lands forever,” but the lands referred to are specified in a treaty the Oneidas signed with the State of New York in 1788. A book entitled “Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs,” published in 1861, describes the boundaries of the Oneida Indian Nation reservation.
See:Treaties – Description of boundaries of the Oneida Indian Nation


Reservations
There are two types of Indian land – trust land and non-trust land. Trust land is owned by the federal government for the exclusive benefit of an individual Indian or a tribe. Non-trust land is owned solely by an Indian or a tribe. All Indian land – trust or non-trust – is subject to the control of Congress.
See: Reservations


Federal Indian policies
The federal government’s attitude toward Native Americans has shifted dramatically over the past 220 years. Some policies proposed a peaceful co-existence with gradual assimilation of Indians into the Euro-American culture. Others aimed to step up the assimilation process with manual labor schools and allotment of tribal lands. Still others pushed separating Indians from European settlements.
See: Federal Indian policies


Presidential policies toward Indian tribes
Since 1968, every presidential administration has espoused the principles of self-determination and self-government for Indian tribes.
See: Presidential Policies Toward Indian Tribes

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