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American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to improve the education of American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Education, and other schools.

Task 1: Understand the Concept of Tribal Sovereignty

Guideline: Educators will understand the concept of tribal sovereignty today and the role of tribal governments in education of their tribal citizens.

Overview: The concept of sovereignty for Indian nations centers on the fact that they are self-governing nations as recognized by the U.S. Constitution. Historically, tribes controlled their own affairs before the U.S. Government entered into formal treaties and eventually assigned many of them to reservations overseen by appointed Indian Agents whose power was enforced by the U.S. Army. With the passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. Government recognized the rights of Indian tribes to self-government, and President Richard Nixon reaffirmed this right with his 1970 message to Congress on Indian self-determination.

Based on the U.S. Constitution, treaties, and Supreme Court decisions, Indian nations have a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. Government, and are largely independent of state governments. The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs represents the U.S. Government in its work with Indian nations.


American Civics Project: Sovereignty or Dependency?

This 4-5 day lesson for middle and high school classrooms introduces students to the historical roots of federal Indian policy and tribal sovereignty. It is designed to fit within a history unit about westward expansion during the 19th Century. It is divided into two parts, each of which is two days in length, but can be expanded by additional information as noted below in the lesson plan.

Sovereignty in Education: Creating Culturally-Based Charter Schools in Native Communities - A NIEA Handbook (2018)

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA), a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Native education, released this 2018 handbook entitled “Sovereignty in Education: Creating Culturally-Based Charter Schools in Native Communities.” For nonprofit organizations working within Native communities and those considering starting charter schools, this handbook provides several key insights to understanding the unique landscape within Native communities in a way that respects their cultural heritage as well as their sovereignty.

Indian Pride 102 Video: Treaties & Sovereignty

This video, published online in January 2011, features a TV episode of Indian Pride featuring,"Tribal Governments—Is Sovereignty Fact or Fiction?" This episode also showcases the unique lifestyles of North America’s 560 Indian Nations. Each episode of Indian Pride includes a mini-documentary, an in-studio discussion, and performances of historical, cultural, and original presentations.

Sovereign Rights, Sovereign People

This video explores the sovereign rights of Native Americans.

American Indian Tribal Sovereignty Primer

This American Indian Tribal Sovereignty Primer summarizes the legal basis for tribal sovereignty. A person unfamiliar with the basis for tribal sovereignty will find it most helpful.  Download PDF

INDIAN AFFAIRS: Laws and Treaties

This Oklahoma State University website lists United States treaties with American Indian governments.

Myths and Realities of Tribal Sovereignty: The Law and Economics of Indian Self-Rule

Authors of this 2004 paper state the last three decades have witnessed a remarkable resurgence of the American Indian nations in the United States as a direct result from the exercise of American Indian self-government - sovereignty - by the more than 560 federally-recognized tribes in the United States.  In this 2004 study, legal and economic dimensions of current perceptions of debates are explored over the nature and extent of tribal self-rule in the United States. The objective is to clarify, address, and illuminate key threads of thought and assumption that pervades accurately, or inaccurately, by distinguishing between myth and reality within the public policy arena. Download PDF

Nenabozho’s Smart Berries: Rethinking Tribal Sovereignty

Professor Wenona Singel, in her paper Indian Tribes and Human Rights Accountability, makes a compelling argument for reforming conventional understandings of tribal sovereignty to "reflect the transformative international law principle that all sovereigns are externally accountable for human rights violations."   Singel proposes the development of an inter-tribal human rights regime that includes the formation of an inter-tribal treaty recognizing tribal human rights obligations, and outlining capacities to enforce human rights. Often, this "rights-based discourse clouds and limits our understandings and applications of tribal sovereignty."

President Nixon’s 1970 Message to Congress

This link is to President Nixon's 1970 message to Congress. in this message, he set forth a "new direction of Indian policy aimed at Indian self-determination and condemned forced termination and proposed recommendations for specific action."

Rethinking Tribal Sovereignty

Dr. Vine Deloria Jr. in his keynote address presented his viewpoint on tribal sovereignty at the Sovereignty Forum sponsored by the American Indian Policy Center on May 26, 1995. This summary presents his three part view on the subject.

The Great Indian Wars 1540 to 1890

This video, published online in 2015, features 'The Great Indian Wars' from 1540 to 1890.

Tribal Nations: The Story of Federal Indian Law (2006 Documentary)

This 2006 documentary video, narrated by Jimmy Fall, tells the story of Federal Indian Law, and was also the Winner of a 2006 Telly Award!

Tribal Sovereignty: History and the Law - Native American Caucus

This Native American Caucus website focuses on the History and Laws of American Indian Tribal Sovereignty. The website shares how tribal governments are the oldest governments in existence in the Western Hemisphere and, at a time when European governments were authoritarian and hierarchical, traditional tribal governments were based upon principles of democracy, equality, freedom, and respect. This website also offers American Indian resources for history, resolutions, sovereignty, and suggested reading.

Chief Oren Lyons on Doctrine of Discovery

In this 2010 video, Chief Oren Lyons reveals how the Doctrine of Discovery came about in 1493 after Columbus's return to Europe and how it was inserted into U.S. policy. Chief Lyons gave this talk to Humboldt State University students on Columbus Day.

Sovereignty and Indian Education

Authored by Melody McCoy this 2005 resource reviews federal laws, policies, and reports related to tribal sovereignty over Indian education.

Tribal Sovereignty: The Right to Self-Rule

This video, which was published online February 21, 2010, provides an excerpt of a longer educational DVD produced to answer frequently asked questions about American Indian tribal governments and the roots of Tribal Sovereignty.

Understanding Native American Sovereignty

This 2016 video, published by the Sycuan Tribe features a review of Native American Sovereignty.

What is Tribal Sovereignty?

This Myskoke Media News video, published online February 21, 2017, asks the question, “What is Tribal Sovereignty?”, and answers with a basic introduction to Tribal Sovereignty.

Original Tribal Land Map

This 2014 National Public Radio (NPR) resource features a map of the Original Indian Tribal Lands, (designed by Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, Oklahoma with NPR article that shows Native American tribes' locations before first contact with Europeans), written in Indian Nation locations and names superimposed over of the map of the United States of America.  This map shows where Indian Tribal lands of the Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee, Shawnee, Blackfoot, Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Pawnee, Ute, Navajo, Apache, and Paiute were originally located before Europeans "discovered" America.

The Backstory on Standing Rock, the Federal Government, and Tribal Sovereignty

This Grist 2016 article by Aura Bogado features the Standing Rock Sioux Nation's movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and are intended for general reference purposes only. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Center, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. Some resources on this site require Adobe Acrobat Reader. This website archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.