SG - Frequently Asked Questions?


What is Tribal Sovereignty?

Tribal sovereignty is the inherent authority to govern and protect the health, safety and welfare of Tribal citizens within Tribal lands and territories. American Indians and Alaska Natives are citizens of sovereign Tribal nations that have a unique legal and political relationship with the federal government.

Congress and the federal courts have placed increasingly complex limitations on the exercise of Tribal sovereignty. However, Tribal sovereignty is inherent in the status of Indian Tribes, and the law assumes that Tribes have sovereign authority unless a federal statute has specifically removed that authority or a federal court has determined that the Tribe’s exercise of that authority is inconsistent within the federal framework.

Has the Tribal Governing Authority Changed or Improved under Self-Governance?

Yes. Self-Governance gives each Tribe more control over the planning and budgeting process. Tribal citizens become more involved in the process of government and the identification of local needs, which strengthens the community as a whole.

Accountability improves and lines of authority become institutionalized, as they relate to policy and management. Tribal leaders and councils are empowered in their decision making. They are more likely to assume responsibility because they can immediately implement their decisions. Overall, Tribal capacity expands, control over local issues increases, and greater community pride results.


Does Tribal Self-Governance Terminate the Federal Trust Responsibility?

No. It has never been the intent of the Tribal Self-Governance initiative to terminate or reduce the federal trust responsibility to Indian Tribes and to Indian people. The law clearly states: "The Secretary is prohibited from waiving, modifying, or diminishing in any way the trust responsibility of the United States with respect to Indian Tribes and individual Indians that exists under treaties, Executive Orders, other laws, or court decisions."

Are there Efforts to Expand Self-Governance to Other Programs within the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)?

Yes. Self-Governance Tribes have been advocating for the expansion of Self-Governance to other operating divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2003, a study was completed by HHS which concluded that expanding Self-Governance under a demonstration project was feasible. The study identified several potential HHS programs for inclusion in Self-Governance agreements. Further, this study reaffirmed that Tribes are capable of overseeing essential IHS programs and services. Such expansion of Self-Governance would build on the well-documented successes of Tribes and Tribal organizations delivering IHS programs and services under Self-Governance and would provide an integrative approach to ensuring healthy communities by coordinating services that enhance individual and community well-being.


What are the Challenges and Obstacles Facing Self-Governance Tribes Today?

One of the greatest challenges facing Self-Governance Tribes is inadequate funding due to declining federal appropriations and eroding Tribal base funding; specifically, the failure to receive adequate inflationary and pay cost increases. The most obvious and devastating effect of underfunding Indian programs is the reduction of direct health care services to the Tribal community. As a result, the level of difficulty Tribes experience in decision making and setting health care priorities increases because they have limited resources to allocate.

Additionally, changing policies and inconsistencies in the interpretation of existing laws and regulations can create challenges in fully implementing Self-Governance authorities.

The Future

As sovereign nations, Tribes have evolved and are stronger today because we choose to control our own destiny and, in doing so, we have returned the right to self-govern to the next seven generations.