American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages hold both the right and authority to manage fish and wildlife on Tribal land. These rights are upheld by treaties, the United States’ nation-to-nation relationships with Tribes, and the unique trust relationship between the United States and Tribes.
Understanding the legal foundations of Tribal land rights can help Tribal governments to further their natural resource management goals and priorities. Neighboring State and local governments must also understand Tribal land rights to ensure that they do not unlawfully attempt to enforce State law and local statutes on Tribal land.
Indian Tribes are governmental sovereigns. This means Tribes have the power to promulgate and enforce laws, administer justice, manage and control Indian lands, exercise Tribal rights and protect Tribal trust resources.
Tribal lands are not federal public lands and are not part of the public domain. Tribal land includes lands which were retained by Tribes or were set aside for Tribal use by treaties, statutes, judicial decisions, executive orders or agreements. These lands are managed by Indian Tribes in accordance with Tribal goals, objectives and vision within the exposition framework of Federal laws.
The documents below are an introduction to the foundational legal principles that support Tribal fish and wildlife management:
- April 29, 2015: Amicus brief for Penobscot Nation v. Mills et al (pdf). This amicus brief was filed by five members of the Congressional Native American Caucus and summarizes the longstanding precedent for how Congress interprets treaties with Tribal Nations and understands Tribal-sovereignty, self-determination, and the trust responsibility.
- June 5, 1997: Secretarial Order No. 3206, “American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act” (pdf).