The concept of Indian tribes in the United States

The concept of Indian tribes in the United States

In the United States, a Native American tribe is any extant or historical tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Indigenous peoples in the United States. Tribes are often associated with territory in the form of a reservation.

A Native American tribe often is self-governing to roughly the same extent as a city or county.


Legal definition in the United States

The term is defined in the United States for some federal government purposes to include only tribes that are federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act [43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.]. Such tribes, including Alaska Native village or regional or village corporations recognized as such, are known as "federally enrolled tribes" and are eligible for special programs and services provided by the United States. The US government maintains a list of ("enrolls") the members of these tribes.

Some tribes are recognized at the state level using procedures defined by various states, without regard to federal recognition. Other tribes are unrecognized because they no longer exist as an organized group or because they have not completed the certification process established by the government entities in question.

Some tribes are federations of other tribes, formed by the US government or by treaty with the US government for the purpose of being assigned to reservations. For example, 12 tribes that existed in 1872 combined at that time to form the Colville Confederated Tribes, which is now the single federally enrolled tribe that occupied the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State.

A few of the better-known tribes include:

Other uses

The original and international meaning of the word tribe is a people organized by a non–nation-state government, who typically claim descent from a common founder. Typically a nation will comprise several tribes. Crudely, a nation speaks a language, however that is conceived, while its tribes may or may not speak various dialects of that language. However, in the United States, the word "tribe" has long been used for any tribal people, whether they are tribes or nations of tribes. The word "band" may be used for the traditional concept of a tribe.

In addition to their status as legal entities, tribes have political, social, historical, and other aspects. The term is also used to refer to various groups of Native Americans bound together for social, political, or religious purposes, including descendants of members of these groups. Tribes are typically characterized by distinct territory, and common language or dialect.[1] Other characteristics include common culture and ethnicity.

Tribes are susceptible to overlapping external and internal definition. Whereas outsiders use their own definitions for what a tribe is, and who is a member, depending on the purpose, tribes may have their own definition of identity and membership. To the extent that many tribes are acknowledged as sovereign nations, the United States does recognize some limited rights of tribes to decide membership by their own criteria.

Naming convention

Although use of the word "Indian" to refer to Native Americans is somewhat disfavored and there has been some controversy over appropriate terminology, such usage has persisted and is less controversial when referring to the Tribes. The word is often included in the names of the various tribes themselves. The word is used almost exclusively in US law.

The origin of the word goes back to a 15th century misunderstanding: the earliest European explorers in the Americas did not know the Americas existed and thought they had landed near east Asia and the people they encountered were natives of the Indies.

See also


  1. ^ "Tribal Nations FAQs". United States Department of Energy. 

External links

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