Government to Government:  Models of Cooperation Between States and Tribes

NCSL Resources

Models for Cooperation Between States and Tribes Cover

Executive Summary

There are many remarkably successful new developments in state-tribal relations to consider.  As Indian tribes improve governmental capacity and more frequently exercise their powers of self-government, tribal and state governments are increasingly finding areas of mutual interest and discovering ways to set aside jurisdictional rivalry in favor of cooperative government-to-government interactions.  Tribes and states have been creating entirely new structures for communication and collaboration, solutions and agreements have been created for the ever-changing range of issues, and older tribal-state institutions have been strengthened and revived.

At the same time, the development of positive intergovernmental relationships between states and tribes has been uneven.  In one state there may be development of improved communications and a building sense of trust between state and tribal officials, while in a neighboring state the parties will rarely speak to each other.  Within the same state, there may be a great deal of cooperation on one issue but very little on another.  Finally, it is common to find a creative and mutually beneficial solution for a particular policy issue in one state, while many other states and tribes continue to struggle—without resolution—with essentially the same issue. 

The antagonistic history of state-tribal jurisdictional battles, the lack of understanding about navigating respective government bureaucracies, and a lack of widespread dialogue about the potential benefits of governmental cooperation are factors that consistently underlie attempts at establishing state-tribal relations.  Specifically, state-tribal relationships may be influenced by state-perceived negatives, such as the loss of jurisdictional control, tax base and land.  Tribes also may approach the relationship with trepidation as their history with the federal government may hamper tribal motivation to work with state government.

Sometimes, rather than actively opposing each other’s positions on issues, states and tribes may simply avoid one another, choosing instead to ignore their neighboring government and any opportunity to cooperatively address mutual interests.  These dynamics often may lead states and tribes that are attempting to develop working relations to feel as though they are sailing uncharted territory. 

By recognizing some guiding principles in effective state-tribal relations and highlighting examples of successful cooperative government, this book is intended to assist tribes and states as they explore new avenues in their continuing efforts to improve governmental service for the citizens of both tribes and states.