State-Tribal Institute

state-tribal logoThe National Conference of State Legislatures has a long history of work on state-tribal relations. Over the last few years, this work has evolved and expanded in scope. It has brought attention to the government-to-government relationship that exists between the tribes and the states and, at the personal level, highlights the unique leader-to-leader relationships that exist between tribal leaders and state legislators.

Tribal governments across the United States are exercising their self-governing powers and taking more control over program administration and the provision of services within their communities. As a result, there is an increasing need for state policymakers to learn to interact with tribes as sovereign governments, instead of viewing them as special interests or minority groups contained within a few states.

Currently the State-Tribal Institute tracks a variety of policy issues affecting state-tribal relations including economic development, environmental protection, human services, taxation, jurisdiction and law enforcement and trust land issues. There are 566 federally recognized tribes within the United States. Although a significant number reside in Alaska (229), the remaining tribes are located within the boundaries of 33 states. In addition, there are numerous bills that are considered by state legislatures each year that can affect tribal governments. Communication between the states and tribes is important so that state policymakers understand the impact legislation can have on their American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian constituents. For more information on state-tribal legislation, see NCSL's legislation database.

A number of states have developed institutional forums, such as Indian Affairs Committees & Commissions, for addressing tribal issues. Legislative committees or executive branch commissions can provide state and tribal leaders with a forum for communication, cross-governmental education and cooperative policy development. Meanwhile, the number of Native American legislators serving in the state legislatures continues to increase. These individuals, while not specifically representing their tribe, can provide valuable insight into the needs of tribal communities and native families, while educating non-native legislators about the need for government to government interactions between states and tribes. For more information visit the Native American Legislators site.

State-Tribal Institute staff can provide comprehensive, thorough and timely information on critical state-tribal relations policy. We provide services to legislators, tribal leaders and staff working to improve state policies affecting native families and communities. The Denver-based staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation, providing research and policy analysis, consultation and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience.