[Foundation-l] Native American Tribes Policy

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Thu May 17 00:59:18 UTC 2007

geni wrote:
> On 5/15/07, Jeffrey V. Merkey <jmerkey at wolfmountaingroup.com> wrote:
>> The same applies to Native Tribes recognized by the
>> US Government.  These tribes are sovereign governments,
> Can they declare war? In any case the kingdom I live in does not
> recognise them as such.

I will admit that the status of American Indian tribes within the 
borders of the USA is a very interesting issue.  In most cases, they 
never gave up their independent sovereignty to the U.S. government, and 
are technically independent nations unto themselves.  Some tribal groups 
operate as independent entities almost as peers to American states, and 
in many cases they even issue their own passports independent of the 
U.S. State Department.  In one bizzare (and unfortunate) incident of an 
American Indian tribal group in New York state, there was a group that 
declared complete independence from the USA and even started to fire 
weaponry at federal agents who tried to fly over the claimed territory 
in helicopters.  And certainly many of these tribal groups did not 
willingly join with the USA, as evidenced by the numerous conflicts 
throughout most of the 19th Century between the armed military forces of 
the U.S. government and these tribal groups.  Groups like the Navajo 
Nation have completely independent legal systems of the states that 
their reservation is located technically within, and that can be a bit 
of a surprise when you get caught violating tribal laws like speed 
limits on highways that cross the reservations.

In most cases, their current status in terms of their relationship with 
the U.S. government is established by treaty and not more typical 
legislative act, although that has occurred as well.  I would have to 
say, however, that if other government entities (such as current members 
of the UN) were to independently recognize these tribal groups as fully 
independent sovereign nations, that would be considered an act of war 
upon the United States of America, and for some reason there are not too 
many countries willing to deal with the consequences of that kind of action.

The exact status of these groups (such as the Cherokee Nation that Jeff 
associates with) is one of those unsettled political questions, but the 
current defacto status is to treat them as American citizens if they 
want to leave designated reservations and to otherwise treat the tribal 
governments as independent governments.  Because state governments are 
not able to enforce their laws within the reservations, it is a very 
common practice for many of these tribal groups to establish a casino or 
some other forms of gambling that may not be legal outside of the 
reservation, and they are also noted for selling tobacco and other 
products at much cheaper prices due to the fact that the state 
governments can't collect the taxes from stores on the reservations.

But as Jeff has also pointed out, there are groups that want to presume 
this level of sovereignty when in fact they have no formal legal 
relationship with the U.S. government or any other government entity.  
Some of these tribal groups are legitimate in terms of having a sort of 
historical claim and can trace ancestry to people who lived in North 
America prior to European settlement in the 16-19th centuries.  In a 
very few cases, they may be recognized by individual state governments 
but not the federal government, and some smaller groups have no formal 
recognition at all.  In the case of groups recognized by state 
governments, they are entirely at the mercy of that state government 
which has granted the recognition, and they can't appeal to the same 
sort of independent sovereignty that the federally recognized groups 
enjoy.  That means that they also must be subject to state laws.  A 
notable example of this is Hawaii with that government's relationship 
with native Hawaiians, which in most cases doesn't have federal 
recognition even though state laws do recognize some unique 
circumstances and territorial claims with those groups.

To me, this issue that Jeff has raised seems more like a question of 
notability standards for tribal groups, and should be treated as 
such.when trying to decide if a given Wikipedia article deserves to be 
kept or deleted.  While the legal issues may be significant to these 
groups claiming sovereignty, I fail to see how this really impacts the 
WMF if an article is written about one of these groups or even if an 
independent language edition of Wikipedia is set up for one of these 
groups that does not have federal recognition.  The separate edition of 
Wikipedia is for speakers of that language, and not about sovereignty 
issues even if many languages can be tied with a specific country or 
government on a cultural basis.

More information about the foundation-l mailing list