The North American Experience

By The International Labour Organization
A brief history: United States cont.

The institutional growth of US tribal government in the 1970s also resulted in disputes with neighboring non-indigenous communities (“State” government and cities) over issues such as public safety and policing, taxes, wildlife management, and water quality. Now that the leaders of indigenous communities had a capacity to manage all their own affairs, they insisted that they had the right to do so. This was contested by many non-indigenous leaders at the State and local levels and led to confrontations and lengthy court battles, at great expense. By the 1980s, however, some States and tribal government had begun to resolve these disputes through negotiations. The State of South Dakota and Oglala Sioux Tribe agreed to collect the same taxes from everyone, indigenous and non-indigenous, and share the income, for example. The State of Washington made a “compact” with indigenous people in 1989, agreeing that all future disputes would be settled by negotiation and sharing of responsibilities.

Another incentive for negotiation was provided by court decisions affirming the right of certain indigenous peoples, in accordance with their previous treaties with the United States, to manage and conserve their own fisheries. Federal and State conservation agencies suddenly found it necessary to include tribal government as equal partners in the making and enforcement of regulations (“co-management”). At first this was done on a year-to-year basis, with negotiations limited to an agreement on the number of fish that could be taken by indigenous and non-indigenous fishers. Everyone eventually realized that this method took too much time, and was not an effective way of protecting complex ecosystems. The trend since 1978 has been towards establishing joint management councils, with representatives from indigenous people, which can adopt long-term conservation plans.

The State of Washington, for example, entered into a Timber-Fish-Wildlife Agreement with indigenous peoples. It commits State agencies to negotiate a holistic conservation plan for each watershed with the indigenous peoples concerned. The Northwest Power Planning Act (1980) created a special commission to adopt measures for the protection and environmental restoration of the Columbia River watershed, one of the largest in the Americas. The commission includes the representatives of indigenous peoples in the watershed, and they have participated in negotiating a number of important agreements for restoring the fishery in the river. Indigenous peoples strengthened their bargaining power in these negotiations by organizing themselves in regional consortia: the Northwest Indian Fish Commission, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Although Federal and State agencies were only required by law to form co-management partnerships with indigenous peoples who had treaty rights to fish or hunt, these precedents made it easier for indigenous peoples without treaty rights to win similar arrangements. Since 1980 US tribal governments have made hundreds of agreements with Federal and State agencies for wildlife conservation, policing, and taxation.

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