President [Bush], in a convoluted response to a question on the meaning of tribal sovereignty (essentially the inherent right of indigenous nations to self-governance) posed by a minority journalist on August 6, told the 7,500 assembled journalists that "tribal sovereignty means that it's sovereign. You're a—you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities."

Nevertheless, these two statements by the leading presidential candidates are big deals for Indian nations. They provide a measure of overt national political recognition for several of the most potent symbols, doctrines and historical realities that affirm the unique status of Native nations—recognition of the value of tribal sovereignty, acknowledgment of the importance of ratified treaties, reassurance of the unique trust relationship. The U.S. and tribal nations have a unique moral relationship with the U.S. acting as a protector of Native lands, resources, and essential rights—and an implicit nod towards the permanence of tribal territories (a.k.a. "reservations").

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Copyright © 2004 Indian Country Today. This article first appeared in Indian Country Today (August 2004), A5.

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