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What Is An Indian Tribe? Some Answers to Interesting Questions

Traditional Paiute Home and Elder, Fallon, NV

Traditional Paiute Home and Elder, Fallon, NV

Today I decided that I wanted to take a few minutes to address some of the many questions that I receive as a tribal leader from people unfamiliar with Tribe and tribal governments.  I’m doing this because there always seems to be misconceptions that are then applied to all Tribes and its people and I hoping to clear up issues from my perspective, as well as the truth especially to my own Tribe.  So below are three of most common questions with my own personal response.

  • I thought Indians were supposed to live in teepees? This question comes up a lot from visitors from different countries.  First and most important this is the 21st century which means that most people on Tribes live in regular homes like everyone else.  Second and equally important not all Tribes lived in a teepee (this was primarily the Plains Indians) – here in my area my people traditionally lived in tule huts which was made up by the tules that surrounded the Carson Lake area.
  • Aren’t you all rich from your tribal casinos? In reality there are only a few Tribes in the country where casino revenues have made their members and their Tribe financially sufficient.  For many Tribes which are remote and away from population bases casinos are not economically viable or if they do have them they primarily cover their operation costs and provide some to support tribal programs.  Here in Nevada the situation is far from ideal since it is already a gaming state and there is no “captive” population to build a large successful casino.  For most Tribes, including my own, poverty is very common with most of our members living far below the poverty level.
  • I hear that Tribes don’t pay any taxes? This question implies that Tribes are freeloaders when nothing if further from the truth.  Tribes, just like all other governments in this country, are not taxable due to their status as governmental entities.   Most Tribes in the country that have businesses on their lands typically charge the same level of taxes as the jurisdictions they surround.  For my Tribe which has businesses in two Nevada counties we charge the same sales and use tax rates to everyone – Indian and non-Indian – who patronize our business and like any other business these taxes are remitted to the local Tribal government to support programs and services.  Additionally tribal governments and its members purchase most, if not all, their supplies (groceries, building materials, etc.) from local businesses providing millions of dollars in revenues and taxes to these merchants and local governments.  In reality, a tribal government is not different from the state or federal government which operates to provide for its members and residents (only that we have treaties that assist in our relationship with the federal government).  While some Tribe did lose in wars between the U.S. regarding our sovereignty, most Tribes entered into treaties with the federal government to stop hostiles and were supposed to be binding agreements which were broken leading to many of the news that people may hear about trust responsibilities that the U.S. has with Tribe or broken promises.  It should be noted that we are only group of people that have unique relationship with the U.S. which was denoted in the U.S. Constitution itself.

There are a number of other questions that I may follow-up on in future blog entries, but I would like to hear from others who have comments or questions of their own that they would like answered about Tribes and their governments.  Today I wanted to cover three that I hear the most about.  So if you got a question, send me a comment or an email and I’ll try to answer it.


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