Whose Sovereignty?

by Darrel Smith

The Associated Press reported a statement made by Bill Yellowtail at a tribal sovereignty conference that occurred August 28, 1999 in Helena Montana. Bill Yellowtail is a regional director for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Crow tribal member. He said Indians must recognize that tribal sovereignty is not a right, but a “legal privilege” that can be diluted or destroyed by Congress and the courts.

Mr. Yellowtail is correct. The only way to reconcile the contradictory concepts of the federal government’s well established plenary (total) power over tribes and tribal sovereignty, is to realize that the federal government has chosen to delegate some of its total power to tribal governments. While¬† an entity can delegate their authority; they can’t delegate their responsibility. It’s time to hold the federal government responsible for the economic, social and constitutional problems this delegation of power creates. This might become especially interesting if the federal government can be required to clearly justify how they can maintain permanent plenary power over American citizens in the first place.