Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tribal-State Relations Involving Land and Resources in the Self-Determination Era

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tribal-State Relations Involving Land and Resources in the Self-Determination Era

Article excerpt

This research focused on the nature of modern relationships between tribal and state governments in the land and natural resources arena. Surveys were completed by 49 states, the District of Columbia, and 77 tribal governments. The results indicated that neither tribes nor states had a high level of administrative capacity to deal with environmental issues on reservations, and that when states did develop such capacity it was often used against Native American interests. Perceptions of pollution on reservations varied between state and tribal governments. States with neighboring reservations-and especially elected officials-were more hostile to native interests than states without native neighbors. Bureaucratic relations appeared more cooperative. Tribal-state interactions, while not conforming to national-subnational or territorial models of federalism, conformed to the concept of relational federalism.

The work presented here focuses on the nature of modern relationships between tribal and state governments. While there has been substantial study of federal-state relationships and federal-tribal relationships, little attention has been paid to tribal-state relations. This is partly because tribal-state relations do not involve the typical national-subnational federalism found in most discussions involving the United States, one of the three types of federalism identified by Elazar (1993: 191). The situation also does not involve Elazars second type of federalism, which is based on a common understanding of territorial boundaries. Rather, conflicts over boundaries are usually at the core of state-tribal relations. The discussion of tribal-state relations involves Elazars third type of federalism, which he identified as "relational" federalism.

Relational federalism is defined as a situation in which power and responsibility for governance are shared among different units, but without either clear territorial boundaries or a clear national-subnational division of governmental power. In a relational federalist situation, there are relationships among governing units that share power, but the situation is fluid and dynamic, rather than clearly agreed upon or set forth in defining documents.

Relational federalism supplies an appropriate framework for the discussion of tribal-stale contact, because tribal governments are not the creatures of their neighboring states, as are counties or cities. States and tribal governments are neither equals within the United States system nor are they in a dominant-subservient relationship. As case studies indicate-and as this research investigates across the continent for the first time-these relationships can develop into a number of different on-the-ground arrangements.

This research investigates the central political arena in which tribal and state governments interact, the discussion over who has control of land and resources. The research covers the end of the first 25 years of the federally-designated Self-Determination era. The policy of Self-Determination was first verbalized by the Nixon Administration in 1970 and was institutionalized in 1975 by the Indian SeIf-Determination and Educational Assistance Act. The Act was promoted as a way to transfer power from the federal government to tribal governments through increased Native American participation in decision-making. The Act was heralded as a major step toward eventual Native American control of native lands and lives, but the Act itself conferred no such control (Esber 1992: 213; Cornell 1988; Castile 1988; Rawls 1996: 68-71.)

In order to understand recent developments, state-tribal relations will first be put into historical context. These relationships are characterized by increased interaction over time, conflict, and lack of clarity. This article will then consider the results of surveys sent to state and tribal governments.


In the vast majority of instances, direct relationships between state governments and native nations could best be described as sporadic until well into the twentieth century. …

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