The trust relationship is the conceptual/philosophical framework against which all relations between the federal government and indigenous groups are conducted. Yet despite the centrality of this concept, federal policymakers have no consistent or agreed upon definition of what the trust relationship actually entails. And, more importantly, indigenous conceptions of trust have rarely been assessed. This article analyzes and advances one tribe's—the Cherokee—perspective on trust. In focusing on how the Cherokee perceive trust, this section emphasizes that from an indigenous viewpoint the trust relationship embodies a complex and sophisticated understanding that both the tribe and the United States have reciprocal responsibilities to maintain positive relations towards one another. The leaders of the Cherokee people—one of the more diverse indigenous groups—understood in the federal government's actions, whether these were expressed in treaties, policy statements, congressional laws, or court decisions, that the federal government was pledged to protect Cherokee property and sovereignty, would act with utmost integrity in its legal and political dealings with the people, and would insure that the United States political and judicial representatives would act in a moral manner regarding the tribe's rights. Notwithstanding the federal government's tremendous variety of treaty and trust violations, the Cherokee conception of trust is regenerative from generation to generation. This breathes new life into a seasoned concept and offers hope for the often difficult political/legal relations between the federal, state, and tribal governments. And here we beg leave to ask of our father that, in future transactions of a public nature between the United States and our nation, the American Government will not require of our nation any thing which, as our protectors and guardians, they will not, after due deliberation, advise us to comply with; and having no doubt of the magnanimity and benignity of the Government, we shall return home satisfied, and report to our nation the result of our mission to this.
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Wilkins, David E. “‘With the Greatest Respect and Fidelity:’ a Cherokee Vision of the ‘Trust’ Doctrine.” The Social Science Journal 34, no. 4 (1997), 495-510. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0362-3319(97)90008-2