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Legal & Legislative

Native woman in front of US flagIndian nations have a complex relationship with the federal government. On the one hand, the federal government ensures that Indian nations receive services and resources as established in treaties and other agreements. It also offers financial oversight and asset management in its fiduciary role as trustee. And, it provides legal protection from states and other entities who would attempt to assert power, thereby infringing on Indian nations’ sovereign status.

However, more often than not, the federal government has failed to honor its agreements or to protect the rights of Native people. The U.S. courts, for example, have unlawfully upheld the taking of aboriginal territory without compensation. Congress refers to its power over Indian nations as “plenary” and has passed laws allowing for the termination of Indian nations and the forced, illegal sale of Indian lands. More recently, the Department of Interior admitted to over a century of mismanagement of Indian lands and assets that has been responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in real income for nearly 500,000 Indian landowners.

Tribal nations must continually inform and contest these decisions through education and lobbying in the corridors of Congress and through grassroots activism and litigation. Organizations such as National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, Native American Rights Fund, the Indian Law Resource Center and many others have been an important bulwark against the fear that Congress will use this “plenary” power to damage and even destroy Indian nations.

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