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Tribal Federal Relations

This page provides links to information and resources addressing efforts to improve tribal - federal relations. 

Indian Treaties: A Bibliography, by Beth DiFelice, describes sources for research into treaties between the U.S. government and Indian tribes, focusing on primary sources. The sources are preceded by an overview of the treaty process and the termination of the government’s power to enter into treaties with Indian nations. 

President Obama signed a memorandum on Tribal Consultation at the November 5, 2009 White House Tribal Nations Conference which pronounced Tribal consultations “a critical ingredient of a sound and productive Federal-Tribal relationship.” The President’s Memorandum directs all Federal agencies to develop a plan of action to implement President Clinton’s Executive Order 13175 on “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments within ninety days (by February 3, 2010).

Attorney General Announces Significant Reforms to Improve Public Safety in Indian Country – Attorney General Eric Holder today announced sweeping reforms intended to improve public safety on tribal land. The new directive is part of a larger Justice Department initiative to create better communication and coordination to fight crime and promote justice in Indian Country. “The public safety challenges we face in Indian Country will not be solved by a single grant or a single piece of legislation,” Holder said. “There is no quick fix. While today’s directive is significant progress, we need to continue our efforts with federal, state and tribal partners to identify solutions to the challenges we face, and work to implement them.” The Attorney General directed all U.S. Attorneys’ Offices with districts containing Indian Country (44 out of 93) to: meet and consult with tribes in their district annually; develop an operational plan addressing public safety in Indian Country; work closely with law enforcement to pay particular attention to violence against women in Indian Country and make these crimes a priority; and to provide summaries of their operational plans to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and make those summaries available to the tribes in their districts. The Attorney General also announced that the Justice Department’s FY 2010 appropriation includes an additional $6 million for Indian Country prosecution efforts. At least 35 additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 12 additional FBI victim specialists will be added in offices with an Indian Country caseload. These new resources will enable the Justice Department to bring the federal justice system closer to Indian Country, including through a Community Prosecution Pilot Project that the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys is currently developing. More Information >>>

Kevin Gover's Apology (in his role at the time as Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Department of the Interior) to Native Americans for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at the ceremony acknowledging the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on September 8, 2000. (Text of Speech) (Link to Video:

A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. reveals that federal funding directed to Native Americans through programs at federal agencies has not been sufficient to address the basic and very urgent needs of indigenous peoples. Among the myriad unmet needs are: health care, education, public safety, housing, and rural development. The United States Commission on Civil Rights finds that significant disparities in federal funding exist between Native Americans and other groups in our nation, as well as the general population. Among immediate requirements for increased funding are: infrastructure development, without which tribal governments cannot properly deliver services; tribal courts, which preserve order in tribal communities, provide for restitution of wrongs, and lend strength and validity to other tribal institutions; and tribal priority allocations, which permit tribes to pursue their own priorities and allow tribal governments to respond to the needs of their citizens.

On April 29, 1994, President and Mrs. Clinton, Vice President and Mrs. Gore, and every member of the President's cabinet (other than the Secretary of State) met with more than 300 Native American leaders of "federally recognized Indian tribes" on the south lawn of the White House. It was the first time in the nation's history that a President of the United States had held such a meeting.

During the meeting, the President signed a memorandum (Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File.) directing the heads of all executive branch departments and agencies to

  • "operate within a government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribal governments"
  • "consult, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, with tribal governments prior to taking actions that affect federally recognized tribal governments"
  • "assess the impact of federal government plans, projects, programs, and activities on tribal trust resources and assure that tribal government rights and concerns are considered during the development of such plans, projects, programs, and activities."

The Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ) was established to provide a single point of contact within the Justice Department for meeting the broad and complex federal responsibilities owed to Indian tribes. The Office facilitates coordination between Departmental components working on Indian issues, and provides a permanent channel of communication for Indian tribal governments with the Department of Justice. OTJ represents the Department in its dealing with Indian tribes, federal agencies, Congress, state and local governments, professional associations, and public interest groups. Because Indian issues cut across so many entities within the Executive Branch, OTJ, in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, serves to unify the federal response.

Building on Common Ground: A National Agenda to Reduce Jurisdictional Disputes Between Tribal, State, and Federal Courts is the formal report and recommendations from a national leadership conference held in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 1993 in which tribal, state, and federal leaders from throughout the United States met to develop a national agenda for improvement of working relationships between tribal, state, and federal judicial systems.

In August 2002, the Tribal Relations Committee of the Conference of Chief Justices adopted a resolution entitled Resolution 27: To Continue the Improved Operating Relations Among Tribal, State, and Federal Judicial Systems. This resolution was intended to endorse continued efforts to Build on Common Ground, including the endorsement of the following three principles:

  • First, tribal state, and federal courts should continue cooperative efforts to enhance relations and resolve jurisdictional issues.
  • Second, Congress should provide resources to tribal courts consistent with their current and increasing responsibilities.
  • Third, tribal, state, and federal authorities should take steps to include cross-recognition of judgments, final orders, laws, and public acts of the three jurisdictions.

Walking on Common Ground ( is the most recent effort - sponsored by the Conference of Chief Justices and many other state, tribal, and federal organizations - to build upon the earlier Building on Common Ground effort. The Walking on Common Ground mission statement is: Tribal, federal, and state justice communities join together in the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, to promote and sustain collaboration, education, and sharing of resources for the benefit of all people. Some important documents found on this site are:

  • Revised Tribal-State Collaboration Efforts Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. (U.S. Department of Justice, July 2003)
  • Teague Protocol Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. purpose is to effectively and efficiently allocate judicial resources by providing a legal mechanism which clearly outlines the path a legal dispute will follow when both a tribal court and a circuit have jurisdiction over a matter. This protocol does not apply to any case in which controlling law commits exclusive jurisdiction to either the tribal court or the circuit court.
  • 1993 Building on Common Ground Document Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. (Web Version) - A Leadership Conference to Develop A National Agenda to Reduce Jurisdictional Disputes Between Tribal, State, and Federal Courts.

The U.S. Government Printing Office disseminates official information and publications from all three branches of the Federal Government. Of particular interest to Native Americans are: Native Americans under Browse Topics; House Committee on Natural Resources, and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.


  • Consultation with Indian Nations by American Indian Development Associates highlights successful strategies that define the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between the Indian nations and the U.S. government.
  • Improving the Relationship Between Indian Nations, the Federal Government, and State Governments, by Jerry Gardner
    In order to effectively address criminal justice issues in Indian country and services for victims of crime in Indian country, it is vital that productive efforts are made to improve the relationship between Indian Nations, the federal government, and state governments. The first step required in any effort to improve these relationships is an understanding and recognition of the unique sovereign status of Indian Nations. Second, contemporary problems in the relationship between these governments should be examined. Third, recent examples of efforts to improve the relationship between these governments should be reviewed. Then, the potential use of written cooperative agreements - such as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) - to improve the relationship between these governments should be examined. Finally, practical tips for developing and implementing written cooperative agreements should be reviewed ...
  • A Federal Commitment to Tribal Justice Systems, by Janet Reno
    Litigation practice and a series of projects of the U.S. Department of Justice support the federal government's longstanding policy of self-determination for Indian tribes.
  • Multiple Sovereignties: Indian Tribes, States, and the Federal Government, by Judith Resnik
    Although often unrecognized, three entities within the territory that constitutes the United States - Indian tribes, states, and the federal government - have forms of sovereignty. The rich and complex relationships among these three sovereignties need to become integrated into the discussion and law of federalism.
  • A New Era of Federal - Tribal Court Cooperation, by J. Clifford Wallace
    The Ninth Circuit Task Force on Tribal Courts is helping to encourage dialogue and bring about changes beneficial to the federal judiciary and tribal courts.

Agencies of the Federal Government and their American Indian and Alaska Native Policies


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