The history of Indian tribes in America necessarily involves studying the continuous struggles over the boundaries of tribal sovereignty, tribal jurisdiction, and tribal property rights. Although tribes exist as extra-constitutional, self-governing entities, they are also subject to the plenary power of the U.S. and are regarded as “domestic dependent nations” under federal law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that tribal governments are the oldest sovereigns on the continent—Native American sovereignty predates the sovereignty of the U.S.—and as such, tribes and tribal people maintain some degree of control, though a diminished measure of sovereignty to be sure. Tribal sovereignty includes the right to govern one’s community, the ability to preserve one’s culture, and the right to control one’s own economy.

The sovereignty status (tribal sovereignty encompassing Native American military, social, and economic development) of Indian nations still remains today. As sovereign entities, Indian nations are guaranteed the power and/or right to determine their form of government, define citizenship, make and enforce laws through their own police force and courts, collect taxes, and regulate property use. Yet the fight to preserve tribal sovereignty and treaty rights has long been at the forefront of the Native American civil rights struggle.

The 2017 Indian Law Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona will meticulously address how tribes can best support the pillars of sovereignty both on and off the reservation in this uncertain era.  Sign up at www.fedbar.org/indianlaw17 on or before March 3, 2017 to take advantage of reduced registration rates. The April 6-7 conference at the Talking Stick Resort will be a multifaceted and illuminating look at the best practices for maintaining tribal sovereignty and tribal advancement.

The federal government has special obligations to protect tribal lands and resources, defend tribal rights to self-government, and provide services necessary for tribal survival. Panelists at the Indian Law Conference will explore issues regarding defending tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction from encroachment by states and others, which is of particular note since federal law recognizes a special kind of Indian sovereign authority.

As discussed above, Indian tribes are considered by federal law to be “domestic, dependent nations.” Congress enacted this sovereign authority to protect Indian groups from state authority, and the sovereign authority extends to Indian tribal courts, which adjudicate matters relating to Indian affairs. But the Supreme Court continues to struggle to define the doctrine of American Indian tribal sovereignty.

The concept of sovereignty remains an important part of federal Indian law impacting gaming, fishing, state and local regulation, criminal law, tribal land claims, immunity from lawsuits, and much more.  Join the Federal Bar Association April 6-7 at the Indian Law Conference for a special session on “Strategies for Empowering Attorneys to Strengthen Sovereignty.” Hon. Robert A. Blaeser (Chief Judge, White Earth Nation Tribal Court); Amy Cordalis (Staff Attorney, The Yurok Tribe); and William Hardacker (General Legal Counsel, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community) will lead a discussion on tribal sovereignty and federal law. Don’t miss a moment of the Indian Law Conference this April! Register today at www.fedbar.org/indianlaw17.


Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, patent, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.