I've heard about self-determination. Do you know how it applies to me or my tribe?

Dear Auntie, I’ve heard my teachers and tribal council members talk about “self-determination,” but I’m not really sure what it means. Do you know how it applies to me or my tribe?

Great question! So essentially this means a federally recognized tribe has the right to decide on and take control of their own affairs. Federally recognized tribes get to act as sovereign nations, meaning they can administer federal trust programs, for the benefit of their tribal members.
 This all started to develop back in the 1930’s, but has been a roller coaster ride until present day. Back in the 70’s President Nixon went on record in support of Indian self-determination by saying, “The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions”. Since then, there has been a lot of leg work from our tribal people and organizations to make changes to the Self-Determination and Education of Act of 1975. Changes like asking for the right to create tribal schools and universities that teach a tribes own values, culture, and language. Or, fighting for land and human rights, or asking that federal money be given in the full amount negotiated so that tribal programs can run as they were meant to.

Self-determination in my opinion is the government to government relationship that exists between federally recognized tribes and the US Federal Government. For many tribes, protecting and maintaining treaty rights have led to a constant legal battle. Issues such as natural resources and environmental protections, health care , education, and the tribal judiciary process (for example the Violence Against Women Actwill most likely continue to reach into the future generations too.

So why is this important for you now?


Learning about the unique relationship between federally recognized tribes and the US Federal Government is important. Also practicing your traditional languages and ceremonial teachings are equally just as important. Knowing who you are and your beliefs, and the tribal legal system procedures help prevent forced assimilation which is another issue of its own. I recommend speaking with your tribal elders, leaders, and reviewing a copy of your treaty is you are recognized as a treaty tribe.

So, start to think about why it’s important for tribes to make their own decisions about their own people, culture, education, and government. What does this mean in regards to preserving or bringing back a tribes culture, language and traditions? For protecting land and human rights? Do you think having a healthy tribal community that acts in its own best interest would be a healthier more harmonious place to live? What would that mean for you and your family?

So I leave this in your hands…if you could help your tribe to become a better tribe, what are some of the things they need help in? What things are important to you…perhaps they’re important to other people too?

Good luck!

Auntie Manda