Fact Sheet

State and Tribal Relationships



NCEL Point of Contact

Kate Burgess
Conservation Program Manager



Strong State-Tribal relationships can advance state policy with thousands of years of ongoing Indigenous ecological knowledge and research. State and Tribal collaborations can offer mutual benefits across reduced legal conflict, identifying redundancies, and increased federal funding. While states have no authority over Tribal nations unless granted by Congress, all states have treaty obligations to Tribal nations, whose Tribal sovereignty exceeds state sovereignty. The relationship between Tribal nations, states, and the federal government is complicated, but recognizing Tribal sovereignty can help states avoid costly mistakes.

Building State-Tribal Collaboration

Know the Nations

Identify Tribal governments based within state boundaries and Tribes with ancestral, historic, and contemporary state ties. States may have Tribal relations offices or councils with this knowledge, and state or regional inter-Tribal councils may also assist.

Reach Out Respectfully

Tribal leaders are leaders of sovereign nations, have powers exceeding governors, and should be treated as such. It is often best to start by contacting Tribal offices and listening at public Tribal council meetings. The BIA Office serving a Tribe can often provide appropriate contact information.

Trust Takes Time

Different state and Tribal governments, histories, and politics may mean what works for a state will not work for state-Tribal partnerships. Tribal nations often have difficult relationships with states, and officials may not immediately trust or value collaboration.

Policy Options

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for uplifting Tribal sovereignty, the following options may be relevant to consider with Tribal partners.


NCEL Resources

Online Resources

Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP)

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Native American Rights Fund (NARF)

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National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

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Indian Country 101

Educational Program

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