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What is the relationship between tribes and the states?

Given that the United States and tribes have a sovereign government to sovereign government relationship, States do not have any power over tribes within their territories, and vice-versa. The U.S. Constitution vests authority over American Indian Affairs in the federal government and therefore, tribes and states also operate under a government-to-government relationship. In fact, in order to become a part of the United States, most states, including Montana, had to disclaim any and all rights to American Indian lands within its territory.

Article I, Section 1 of the Montana Constitution (the Enabling Act), approved February 22, 1889, states: . . . all lands owned or held by any American Indian or American Indian tribes shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the congress of the United States, continue in full force and effect until revoked by the consent of the United States and the people of Montana.

A tribe and a state can agree, through compacts or other agreements, that certain legal relationships exist. Additionally, the U.S. Congress can establish certain laws that create a state-tribal relationship on particular issues. Tribes retain the right to enact and enforce stricter laws and regulations than those of the neighboring state(s). Tribes possess both the right and the power to regulate activities on their lands and over their citizens independently from the neighboring state government.

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Last Updated
4th of June, 2012

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