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Tribal Nations: Environmentally More Sovereign Than States

October 2001

Citation: 31 ELR 11198

Issue: 10

Author: Joe W. Stuckey

Sovereignty: a: supreme power especially over a body politic;

b: freedom from external control.1

Jurisdictional issues have been a part of the lives of Native Americans since before the Indian wars and continue to be at the center of all disputes involving both their environment and their natural resources. Modern jurisdictional issues usually concern sovereignty, treaties, and the rights of states and tribal courts. More recently, transboundary issues have become a part of environmental disputes.

This Article introduces the concept of sovereignty as it applies to Native Americans. It then reviews cases involving the rights of tribes asserted under various theories, including tribal sovereignty, compared to rights asserted by states. My thesis is that tribes have greater rights in environmental matters than do states because of their historical status as sovereign nations, their treaties providing for separate rights, and their treatment as "dependent wards" of the U.S. government.

The author is an Attorney at Law, Houston, Texas. Mr. Stuckey attended Texas A&M University, B.S.C.E. 1965 and University of Houston Law Center, J.D. 1974, L.L.M. 2000.

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