Duane Champagne: Tribes define their form of self-government

"A puzzling aspect of the term tribe is its lack of a clear definition. Even the Department of the Interior, the last word on federal recognition, doesn’t have one.

Most tribal communities do have an expression in their own language of what their community means to them and to their people. Take Lakota Oyate, which is often translated as nation. But appearances can be deceiving. In Western parlance, a nation is a group of individual citizens who share a common political government.

However, as is true for many Indigenous Peoples, Lakota Oyate is actually a coalition of kinship groups that have collective ceremonial and spiritual relations with the cosmic power beings. For Indigenous Peoples, a nation is best thought of as a unity of kinship groups, bands or village that in turn have relations to other nations of plants, animals, and the spiritual powers of the cosmos.

By this definition of nation, tribal governments are those entities that manage the social, political and spiritual relations with the human (and nonhuman) nations of the cosmic order that can affect their affairs. So when Indigenous Peoples speak of self-government, they are not talking about that word in the contemporary sense."

Get the Story:
Duane Champagne: Tribal Governments: What Price ‘Democracy’? (Indian Country Today 6/19)

Join the Conversation