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        Idaho | Activity 3.4: American Indian Tribes and the US Federal Government

        Unit 3: American Indians

        In this Unit, students will learn about the indigenous peoples who inhabited what became the state of Idaho long before the arrival of other groups. Although the arrival of white explorers came relatively late, their impact was profound and continues to reverberate in the lives of tribal people today.


        Lesson Summary

        Students learn the difference between a national government, a tribal government, and a state government. Students then watch a video that describes the efforts of some American Indian tribes to reclaim resources. What processes must they use?

        Standard: 413.01 Explain that rules and laws can be used to protect rights, provide benefits and assign responsibilities.

        413.30 Identify ways people can monitor and influence the decisions and actions of their state and tribal governments.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes



        1. Share the following definitions with your students:

        Nation (meaning 1): a large area of land that is controlled by its own government.

        Nation (meaning 2): a tribe of American Indians or a group of American Indian tribes that share the same history, traditions, or language.

        Sovereignty: a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself.


        1. Discuss with your students what a nation is. One type of nation is a country like the United States, which has a government, laws, and constitution. The other type represents a tribe of American Indians that identifies as a singular group of people. The Kootenai tribe, the Nez Perce, or the Sioux Nation are some examples. Some of these tribes have their own form of governing power, which is called sovereignty.

        1. Play the video, Indian Pride: Treaties and Sovereignty (Part 1) [4:51]. The first minute can be skipped.

        1. Ask students the following discussion questions:

          1. There are two types of nations. What is the difference between them?

          2. Who gives someone sovereignty?

          3. The video points out that American Indians had rights and sovereignty before Europeans came along. To protect and uphold those rights, they developed written laws and a constitution. Why?

          4. Would it be possible to negotiate with the US Government without these things? How about with a State government?

        Answer Key

        1. One is about land; one is about people

        2. It has to be upheld by the people. The US government does not grant American Indian tribe their sovereignty.

        3. The written laws and constitution was proof and contract of their rights. Sovereignty does not depend on the recognition of the Europeans (US). The American Indians established a body of law to prove they were an acting sovereignty.

        4. Yes, but it’s more difficult. The written versions are binding contracts for “federally recognized tribes”. Tribes without written laws are “unrecognized” and have less negotiating power.


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