Self Determination, a Better Policy

We’ve written some about the history of federal policies toward Native people.  Some people have asked me what the current federal policy involves. 

Since the mid-1970’s, all federally recognized American Indian tribes have operated under the formal federal policy of self determination.  The Indian Self Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 (aka the Act, or Self Determination Act) ended the official federal policy of termination, during which many treaty relationships and obligations to tribes were severed.  The passage of the Act resulted from years of effort from grassroots political activities and nearly two decades of change through the Civil Rights movement.

The Self Determination Act was intended to increase the powers of internal tribal self-government and end years of being subject to paternalistic management by non-Indian governments.  The policy of self determination extends to matters such as natural resource management, economic development, environmental protection and civil law. The powers of the tribes are now similar and equivalent to states.  When living and working on reservations, tribal members are governed by tribal and federal law. And like citizens of any state, tribal members are voting citizens of the US and are subject to federal taxes and laws.

When tribes began implementing strategies of self-rule during the Self Determination policy period, most did so under conditions of extreme poverty and still under the treaties.  Due to the previous federal policies, many tribes also began this period with a government system that was not culturally relevant, dealing with the effects of federally-imposed systems of education, lacking experience in business, and other challenges. Increasingly, however, self determination has led to restructuring of tribal governments as well as to improved relations with the federal government.  As a result many nations have revised educational curriculum, established courts, engaged in new economic development, improved law enforcement, and achieved other positive development.   

This excerpt from a radio interview is a good way to learn more about the importance of empowering the tribes in the principles of self determination and why we established and abide by the principles in the NRC Way.

If you do not see the audio player, you can also listen to the clip at to listen to clips.

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  1. Posted October 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

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    Self Determination, a Better Policy

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