American Judges Association
From Conflict to Cooperation: State and Tribal Court Relations in the Era of Self-Determination
Date of this Version
Court Review, Volume 45, Issue 1-2, 48-50
The Indigenous nations of the United States have long been subject to federal policy. Since the Civil Rights Era, that federal policy purportedly has been to encourage self-determination and tribal sovereignty. One of the hallmarks of self-determination is the development of Tribal legal systems, which have been actively encouraged and funded by the federal government. As a result, Tribes have been exercising their jurisdiction in ways that were not contemplated decades ago. As Tribes have expressed their sovereignty through their court systems, it is not surprising that states sometimes feel that their own jurisdiction is threatened. This conflict creates a need for increased understanding, communication, and cooperation between Tribal and state governments. The extent to which Tribal-state cooperation succeeds or fails depends in large part upon their ability to understand each other’s philosophical, legal, and historical realities. Cultural barriers to communication can, if left unattended, prevent meaningful cooperation from taking place. Historical myths and prejudices about the First Peoples of the United States threaten to keep Indigenous communities impoverished and marginalized. These myths stem from first contact, and form the root of modern, anti- Tribal policies, legislation, and court decisions. If we agree that Tribal-state relationships should evolve, we must first accept that the historical animosity and distrust are the products of a powerful legacy of colonization, genocide, and oppression.
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