Section 2: Tribes

A large group of people in an area who are organized under one government is called a nation. A government is an organization of people that makes rules and laws for the nation. The continent of North America contains three large sovereign (sov-er-ren) nations—Canada, the United States, and Mexico. When a nation is sovereign, it means that it can govern itself. People who are members of a nation are called citizens of that nation.

Before Europeans came to North America, there were more than 300 nations in what is now the United States. The citizens of these nations were American Indians. Each nation, called a tribe, was sovereign and had its own government.

When Europeans began moving to North America, they settled on land where American Indian families had lived for hundreds of years. The Indians did not want to move, but the government sent its army and forced the Indians to move to reservations.

The U.S. government began forcing American Indians onto reservations in 1851.

Figure 2. The U.S. government began forcing American Indians onto reservations in 1851. This Indian Affairs map shows American Indian reservations in 1874. (SHSND)

Treaties and the U.S. government.

Figure 3. Treaties greatly reduced the size of reservations. This map shows how the Turtle Mountain Reservation was reduced in size. (SHSND-ND Studies)

In order to keep peace, get more land, and obtain other benefits, the U.S. government made treaties with the different Indian tribes. Even though many promises made in the treaties were broken by the U.S. government, the tribes were able to keep their positions as sovereign nations within the United States.

This means that each tribe is sovereign but is associated with the United States. Tribal members are citizens of two nations—the United States and their own tribal nation.

The state in which the tribe is located does not have authority over the tribe. The tribe has power over everything within the tribe, and the state government cannot interfere. The tribal chair (chief) of each tribe is equal in rank to the governor of each state.

Each tribe is headquartered on a reservation, and the laws of the tribe apply within the boundaries of the reservation. Tribal laws affect hunting, fishing, and water rights on most reservation land. The sovereignty of the Indian tribes is not affected by state laws.

Many Indian tribes have lived in North Dakota at different times, but today North Dakota has five nations, or tribes, located within its borders. They are (1) the Three Affiliated Tribes; (2) Spirit Lake Nation; (3) the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; (4) the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe; and (5) the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.