Valbuena: Yes, tribes are sovereign governments

Ed. Note: Lynn Valbuena is the former chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California. She also served as secretary of the Nationa Indian Gaming Association.

"Most people are not aware that Indian tribes are sovereign nations. Even fewer know what that means. Some think that visiting an Indian reservation is like going to a foreign country. Others think that visiting an Indian casino on a reservation is no different than visiting a Las Vegas casino.

Both of these characterizations are very wrong, in part for what they do not account for: American history and law.

People know the general structure of the United States government: first the federal level, then states, then counties and cities below. By contrast, Indian tribes are sovereign nations whose sovereignty is derived from the United States Constitution, treaties, court decisions, acts of Congress, and American history.

The sovereign nature of tribal governments first appears in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution giving power to Congress to regulate trade with "foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." This reference to Indian Tribes, the only in the Constitution, has become the bedrock of a great edifice of law as established by the United States Supreme Court and lower courts."

Get the Story:
Lynn Valbuena: Status of sovereign Indian nations upheld by U.S. court decisions (Capitol Weekly 2/16)