Building strong connections between tribal nations and county government: Part 3 – Improve relations

County commissioners from 18 northern Michigan counties learn about Michigan tribal sovereignty, history and cooperative efforts with counties.

Legislation in the late 1900s has helped to correct earlier problems created by the U.S. government’s treatment of indigenous people. The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act recognized that it is better to keep Indian children in their own homes when possible and made other changes to improve social services for Indian families. The Indian Religious Freedom Act has helped to bring discussion of tribal spiritual practices out of the forced silence of earlier actions by the federal government. The return of tribal remains and artifacts to tribes has been improved by passage of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The 1900s also brought about the process of recognition of tribes by the federal government. Tribes must demonstrate that they are, in fact, the descendants of historical tribes to achieve this recognition. There are 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan, with four others seeking recognition. There are 565 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., and another 245 which are not yet recognized.

Government structure varies among the tribes in Michigan. Each has created their own constitution. These constitutions are typically a blend of traditional tribal governance and western structure, such as the three branches of government seen in the federal and state governments. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian’s constitution includes this statement about the importance of tribal culture, “This Constitution is solemnly pledged to respect the individuality of all our members and their spiritual beliefs and practices, while recognizing the importance of preserving a strong, unified Tribal identity in accordance with our Anishinaabe Heritage.”

Structural details, such as the number of elected tribal council members, are a good example of ways the various tribes have created their constitutions to meet their specific needs. Tribal councils in Michigan vary in size from 5-12 members.

As a nation within a nation, tribes have many opportunities to work cooperatively with other governments, at the national level, and the state and local government levels. Tribes provide many services to their members which are similar to those provided by local and state governments. Government to government relationships and service agreements exist which enable all cooperating governments to provide better services and/or to reduce the costs of providing those services.

Commissioners who participated in this program are delegates from their counties to the Michigan Northern Counties Association (MNCA). Michigan State University Extension provides educational programming assistance to the MNCA, which meets eight times each year.

Read more about building stronger connections between tribal nations and governments in northern Lower Michigan in the following articles: