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Eastern Washington University Libraries

Tribal Sovereignty

Resources and information about NW Tribal Sovereignty.

The Essential Questions

To meet the requirements of a state law often referred to as "Since Time Immemorial", K-12 teachers in the "common schools" (public schools) of Washington state must teach about tribal sovereignty, via an understanding of tribal history and culture, in the context of the tribe most closely associated with their school's geographic location.  The outcomes required at different age/grade levels vary in wording, but fundamentally, in every grade, students must receive instruction in connection with the following five essential questions:

  1. How does physical geography affect Northwest tribes’ culture, economy, and where they choose to settle and trade?
  2. What is the legal status of the tribes who negotiated or who did not enter into United States treaties?
  3. What were the political, economic, and cultural forces that led to the treaties?
  4. What are the ways in which tribes responded to the threats and outside pressure to extinguish their cultures and independence?
  5. What have local tribes done to meet the challenges of reservation life? What have these tribes, as sovereign nations, done to meet the economic and cultural needs of their tribal communities?

Learning Outcomes

By the time Washington State students leave elementary school, they will:

  1. understand that over 500 independent tribal nations exist within the United States today, and that they interact with the United States, as well as each other, on a government-to-government basis;
  2. understand tribal sovereignty is “a way that tribes govern themselves in order to keep and support their ways of life;
  3. understand that tribal sovereignty predates treaty times;
  4. understand how the treaties that tribal nations entered into with the United States government limited their sovereignty; and
  5. identify the names and locations of tribes in their area.

By the time Washington State students leave middle school, they will understand:

  1. that according to the US Constitution, treaties are “the supreme law of the land”; consequently treaty rights supersede most state laws;
  2. that tribal sovereignty has cultural, political, and economic bases;
  3. that tribes are subject to federal law and taxes, as well as some state regulations;
  4. that tribal sovereignty is ever-evolving and therefore levels of sovereignty and status vary from tribe to tribe; and
  5. that there were and are frequent and continued threats to tribal sovereignty that are mostly addressed through the courts.

By the time Washington State students leave high school, they will:

  1. recognize landmark court decisions and legislation that affected and continue to affect tribal sovereignty;
  2. understand that tribal sovereignty protects tribes’ ways of life and the development of their nations;
  3. understand that tribal, state, and federal agencies often work together toward the same goal;
  4. explain the governmental structure of at least one tribe in their community; and
  5. distinguish between federally and non-federally recognized tribes.

Washington State

Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum and Resources