Adrian Jawort
Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council representatives express grievances to Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior officials.

Tribal Citizens Responsible for Supporting Self-Government

Duane Champagne

Many Indians currently identify themselves as citizens of an Indian nation. Usually the term citizen is used in the same way as citizen is used for the United States. As tribal communities use the expressions of nation and citizen, they are using the language of contemporary nation states.

For purposes of getting the United States to recognize Indian nations, tribal governments, and Indians as citizens of Indian nations, Indian people have adopted the language of nation states. While U.S. Indian nations have made some progress toward political and legal recognition as self-governing nations, the international discourse on nation states does not describe the purposes and organization of most Indian nations.

A problem with borrowing the language of nation and citizen from international definitions of nation states, is that Western and international government is very different from the government, community, political identity, individual participation, and culture of most Indigenous nations. Western nation states, like the United States, are composed of individual citizens, and the definition of nation is a collection of individuals who agree to form a government through adopting a constitution.

In contrast, indigenous governments have existed from time immemorial and are often gifted to the people through creation teachings or related spiritual events. While there are individuals in indigenous nations, indigenous nations are composed of kinship groups, and local groups like villages and regions. Indigenous nations have spiritual goals and purposes, often set out in the creation teachings, and manage reciprocal relations with all forces in the cosmic universe through ceremonies and moral community relations.

Many U.S. Indian nations have adopted constitutional forms as governments, and most of the constitutional governments are designed to remove Indian governments from spiritual and kinship relations. Many Indian constitutional governments have the form of secular nation states with formal separation from kinship and spirituality. Traditional kinship and ceremonial activities continue to affect government actions, goals, and processes.


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swrussel's picture
Submitted by swrussel on
All true. In thinking about it for years, I've convinced myself that the traditional shadow government is not such a bad idea even my tribal government, a long time constitutional republic without a BIA template, ought to find some way to receive input. Another thing is that missionaries have never left us alone, and so checks and balances become necessary to mediate between traditionals and Christians, a difference that carries at least as much freight as traditionals v. economic development hawks.