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Anthony Corsino posted Aug 9, 2020 12:02 PM

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“Tribal sovereignty refers to the right of American Indians and Alaska Natives to govern themselves” (Shelly McDonald, 2020). In essence Tribal Sovereignty states that the U.S. Constitution acknowledges Indian tribes as unique governments. Importantly it also notes that each tribe’s “government” be granted the same powers as state and federal governments so as to control and manage their own internal issues. For Native tribes the umbrella of Sovereignty allows for the rights to determine what is entailed in being a member of the tribe, the right to establish it’s own unique government as well as being able to set up and enact legislation for the court system and law enforcement. (Shelly McDonald, 2020)

Tribal Sovereignty in the Constitution allows for the ruling authority in Indian affairs to be the federal government. This is important because similarly to how the U.S. handles affairs with states as governments, it also handles Indian tribes as unique governments that are not “special interest groups, individuals or some other type of non-governmental entity” (Shelly McDonald, 2020).

The court case of Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823, which addressed if the tribal land grants made to private individuals were legally sound. It also noted that the tribes’ rights to leading a sovereign existence were being impaired by colonization and only the U.S. government would hold the right to negotiate for Native American land. The 1831 case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia was another court case of note in the fight for tribal sovereignty. In the lawsuit, Cherokee were asking for the state to relinquish control of their land. Ultimately it was decided that the Indian tribes were to be viewed as domestic dependent nations and that the relationship between the federal government and the Indian tribes was akin to a parent-less child and their sponsor. In 1832, the case of Worcester v. Georgia the use of state law in Georgia be applied to the Cherokee nation. It led to the decision that tribes would not lose sovereign powers when becoming “subject to the power of the United States. It also maintained that only Congress has overriding power over Indian affairs and that state laws do not apply in Indian Country” (Shelly McDonald, 2020). The push and pull struggle of the Native people’s fight to keep their unique identity alive was about to approach another massive hurdle in the Selective Service Act of 1941. (Shelly McDonald, 2020)

Some tribes believed that Selective Service violated their sovereignty, the Yakima Nation is a great example of one of the tribes. The Yakima Nation were allowed to live as a sovereign “state”, covered by a treaty with the U.S. government dating back to the 1850’s, however in 1941 at the insistence of the government in Washington D.C. the Selective Service Act was to make all treaties with Native people null and void. Additionally, the Act called for Native Americans to allow themselves to be conscripted, otherwise known as enlistment in to an armed service by force. Though some members of the Yakima nation did not object to serving in the military the Selective Service Act did however greatly threaten the tribal sovereignty of the tribe as well as their identity. The Act would completely negate an important piece of the 1855 treaty that made it so that Yakima would not be forced to take up arms against their own people on behalf of the U.S. no matter what the reasons were. Additionally the 1855 treaty never actually granted any type of American citizenship to the Yakima. Because they felt that they were not U.S. citizens and the Selective Service Act only applied to citizens of the U.S. having to take up arms they felt that the Yakima Nation should be left out of the dispute as no authority was held over them by the U.S. in that regard. Ultimately the Yakima were ruled against and it was found that the Selective Service Act was to supersede any preexisting treaties with Indians as well as permit Congress to suspend laws that would conflict with Selective Service essentially taking away any reason for the Native people to resist conscription. (Townsend, 2019)

The issues surrounding The Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 led to a more drawn out, larger battle over sovereignty. The 1794 treaty legally recognized the Iroquois Confederacy as a sovereign nation within the United States. This agreement with the government in Washington was a mutually beneficial relationship that held strong for the better part of the nineteenth century leading into the early twentieth centuries. In 1917 the sovereignty of the Confederacy was put to the test when the Iroquois Confederacy declared war against Germany, completely separate from the declaration of war against Germany made by Congress. In 1924 sovereignty was again put to the test when the Confederacy asked to be allowed into the League of Nations. After a long drawn out legal battle just as the Yakima nation was stripped of any treaties, and in many ways further assimilated into Americans, as they were subjected to the Selective Service Act. One last gesture for sovereignty, even if deemed symbolic, could be seen when even after the courts ruled against the Confederacy, they declared war against Germany and Japan in 1942. It showed that they were not about to lay down and let the Americanization of their people strip them of their cultural identities. (Townsend, 2019)


Shelly McDonald, S. (2020). An Issue of Sovereignty. Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://www.ncsl.org/research/state-tribal-institute/an-issue-of-sovereignty.aspx

Townsend, K.W. (2019). First Americans: A history of native peoples. New York, NY, NY: Routledge.


Kathryn Scholes posted Aug 12, 2020 5:45 PM

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What is tribal Sovereignty and why did some tribes believe that Selective Service violated that Sovereignty?

Tribal Sovereignty was when Native Americans were given the right to direct themselves without the United States’ interference. One of the tribes that believed that that the Selective Services violated the Sovereignty was the Yakima Nation. The 1855 treaty banned Yakima’s from taking up arms either for the United States or against the United States. The Selective service act voided the agreements that were requiring enlistment of Native Americans. This caused many Yakima people to file suit against the federal government. One, in particular, was Watson Touts. Watson and his people argued that the agreement did not allow citizenship for the Yakima people. They also argued that the Selective Services Act only applied to United States citizens. Unfortunately for Watson, the judge ruled against him and his people. They reasoned that the Citizenship Act of 1924 stated that all Indians in the United States were natural citizens, notwithstanding previous agreements.

Work Cited

Townsend, K. W. (2019). First Americans: A history of native peoples. New York, NY: Routledge.

reply to these two posts about the subject and hare more informationAnthony Corsino posted Aug 9, 2020 12:02 PMSubscribeThis page automatically marks posts as read as you scroll.Adjust automatic marking

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