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Copyright (c) 2002 Arizona State Law Journal
Arizona State Law Journal

ARTICLE: The Meaning of Indigenous Nation Sovereignty

Spring, 2002

34 Ariz. St. L.J. 75


Robert B. Porter*


I. Introduction

A lot of Indians 1 and non-Indians, especially policymakers, lawyers, and scholars, have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what "sovereignty" means as it relates to the Indigenous peoples and nations of the world. 2 Having long been a participant in this quest myself, I too, have come up with a few ideas about what the term means. As I see it, "sovereignty" as applied to Indigenous nations simply means freedom, the freedom of a people to choose what their future will be.

Now, I know that this definition is really basic and certainly not novel. But I like it because it goes to the heart of the sovereignty question, Are you a free people? Of course, my definition hardly resolves all of the related questions that might come up, such as: Who, or what, has sovereignty?; Is sovereignty limited?; Can sovereignty be created?; Can it be lost?; and perhaps most importantly, does having sovereignty really even matter? Now, I realize that some people don't like to use the word sovereignty in the context of Indigenous nations and peoples. 3 But whether anyone likes it or not, "sovereignty" and the related concepts of "autonomy" and "self-determination" are terms of real world significance that are used by Indians and those who deal with Indians. For those of us who spend lots of time thinking about the most fragile societies on the planet-the Indigenous societies-and how they interact with colonizing ...
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