Prior to colonization by European settlers, Native Americans enjoyed a long history of diverse tribal organizations which collaborated for the purposes of trade, farming, and sharing experiences (Parrillo, 2009, p.32). Upon arrival and domination of the settlers, however, Indian tribes found themselves being stripped of their lands, experiencing civil unrest and being pushed westward as the new Americans took ownership and utilized treaties to prevent the various tribes from banding together in an attempt to collaborate against the settlers (Professor, 2013). Taking advantage of the “mutual trust relationships” established between the settlers and the tribes, Chief Justice Marshall in 1832 deemed the tribes to be dependent domestic nations, wherein each tribe was recognized as an independent in control of the issues specific to their tribe but was under the legal control of the new American government and unable to engage in any form of negotiations with any of the other nation. The absolute control the new government exerted over the Indian tribes left them with no religion, no land, no control, and no ability to collaborate to gather the foothold to rebel.
Through various periods in American history from the colonization to today, the rights of the Native Americans relative to their ownership of their own lands and, particularly, relatively to the control they exerted over their tribal affairs has changed from one of complete sovereignty—a nation existing within the borders of the United States—to one of which the federal government maintains control. Today’s meaning of sovereignty as it applies to American Indian tribes is defined as a completely independent, autonomous nation which happens to reside within the borders of the United States but for which the United States has no control. However, the smoke shop raid of 2003 in which Rhode Island state troopers invaded the Narragansett Reservation, seizing tribal members and leaders, indicates that these nations are not actually sovereign pursuant to any agreements they may have negotiated with the federal government (Brown & Robinson, 2006).
John B. Brown, I., & Robinson, P. A. (2006). Native peoples and archaeology in the Northeastern United States. University of Nebraska Press.
Parrillo, V. N. (2009). Diversity in America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Professor. (2013). Native American sovereignty. Class Discussion.