03. Treaty Rights of Indigenous People | Indigenous Sovereignty | Sovereign’s Handbook

By Johnny Liberty

U.S. treaties with sovereign indigenous nations within the boundaries of the united states of America is supreme law over all other laws pursuant to the U.S. Constitution. Until the federal U.S. government honors what was promised by treaty to the indigenous people of North America, there can be no healing in this country.

Indigenous nations and native people have the right to secure their homelands and provide for their people. Indigenous nations and people gave up vast territory and wealth under colonization and suffered greatly at the hands of genocide or disease.

The indigenous people or the Americas, or Indians as they are called in the constitution, were not subject to any tax. For example the Buck Act (1940) excepted Indians from the levy or collection of any tax. (i.e., Indians not taxed). The federal United States could only tax its own “U.S. citizens” if resident in a “federal area”.

“Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes.” ~ U.S. Constitution [1:8:3]

American indigenous nations and tribal people have the right to have U.S. treaties honored by the U.S. government regardless of what Administration was in charge at the time. Unfortunately, treaty rights in the united states of America, and much of the colonized world, have not been honored by because indigenous people, much like “U.S. citizens”, were considered “wards of the State (or court)”. 

Indigenous people, or Indians,  are under the jurisdiction of the federal agency – Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), regulated by the laws of the federal U.S. government. There are 574 Indian nations recognized by the BIA covering 55 million acres of land. Of these 231 are located in Alaska. Jurisdiction over Indian nations is based on the principles of the Canon laws of the Doctrine of Discovery as discussed in the previous section. From the perspective of the federal U.S. government, U.S. treaties were originally negotiated with “non-entities” of “non-recognized” nations, without Citizenship or rights of any kind – state or federal.

Therefore, the federal U.S. government acts as if treaties with indigenous nations and people are not binding, nor are U.S. treaties with indigenous people honored the same as U.S. treaties with European nations. 

Without Citizenship of any kind, indigenous people were denied access to both state and federal courts, much like “U.S. citizens”. As defined in Corpus Juris Secundum, 7 CJS at par. two, indigenous American people were considered “wards of the court”.

Therefore, indigenous nations and people could not challenge infringements upon their U.S. treaties, nor could they compel the federal U.S. government to any specific performance as they had no standing at law. 

Indigenous nations and people were neither sovereign “state” Citizens with the same rights and privileges as the white, male property owners of the original constitutional Republic, nor were they “U.S. citizens” of the federal United States. They were in limbo between three worlds.

Furthermore, emergency power statutes permitted the complete abrogation of Indian Treaties when an Indian tribe is in an actual or contrived hostility.

Is this another convenient justification by the federal U.S. government for not honoring the U.S. treaties, by executing a declared state of perpetual emergency on the reservations and Indian lands? Emergency powers must be lifted and lawful, de jure governments re-established.

“A treaty is declared to be the supreme law of the land, and is, therefore, obligatory on courts whenever it operates of itself without the aid of a legislative provision.” ~ U.S. v. The Schooner Peggy (1801)

Today, neither indigenous nations, indigenous people, nor “U.S. citizens” have their “treaties” or inherent sovereign rights recognized by the federal U.S. government. In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the U.S. government “has the right and authority, instead of controlling them by treaties, to govern them by acts of Congress, they being within the geographical limit of the United States…The Indians owe no allegiance to a State within which their reservation maybe established, and the State giver them no protection.”

As a side note, the “Bill of Rights” was essentially a “treaty” between the sovereign “state” Citizens of the original 13 colonies and the federal U.S. government. The “Bill of Rights” does not guarantee any rights for “U.S. citizens” or indigenous people since it only applies outside a “federal area”

Indigenous nations and people have been robbed of their land, culture and treaty rights by the same sovereign Power structure that is now robbing “U.S. citizens” of their land and treaty rights. As songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote, “I was raised on robbery”.

Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn wrote yet another poignant song about the theft of indigenous lands entitled “Stolen Lands.”

Ironically, perhaps karmically as well, the very land and wealth stolen from the indigenous nations and people is now being stolen again by the same sovereign Power structure, domestically and abroad. “The American indigenous people, sovereign ‘state’ Citizens, and U.S. citizens are being colonized once again!” 

Restoring U.S. Treaty Rights & Inherent Sovereignty

Strategies for restoring U.S. treaty rights for indigenous nations and people include the following. None of these are tried and true, but would be interesting test cases. 

Today, most American indigenous people have been issued either Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) numbers or Social Security Numbers (SSNs). 

Many American indigenous people, those without a Native American tribal document (which certifies that they are still a sovereign people), have recently been naturalized as “U.S. citizens”

Although, indigenous U.S. citizens are under federal jurisdiction (just like indigenous people on the reservation without any civil rights), and have “waived” their inherent sovereignty and unalienable rights, just like “U.S. citizens” have, indigenous American people may be able one day to restore their full sovereign rights as “state” Citizens with full state and federal constitutional and treaty rights as was intended by the founders. 

By expatriating from being “U.S. citizens” and naturalizing in a sovereign state, they could become sovereign “state” Citizens, then have the legal standing to claim U.S. treaty rights on behalf of all the other indigenous sovereign nations and people through a class action lawsuit in the federal courts under Admiralty jurisdiction and maritime procedures.

Indigenous “U.S. citizens” would have civil rights, remedies, and recourse in the federal courts, and could compel performance of their respective U.S. treaties under Admiralty/Maritime or Military/Martial law jurisdiction. These days the “law of the sea”, not the “law of the land”, operates in the federal U.S. courts. 

The U.S. treaties could be argued from the standing of an international contract, or the lack thereof, not from the basis of the U.S. treaty or the Common law.

Land patents, held-in-common on the reservation, could be updated in the name of the native elders, and then stewarded in a Sovereign Trust for the whole tribe.
Ironically and strangely enough, this strategy for reclaiming sovereignty is comparable for both colonized indigenous nations and people, and the now colonized “U.S. citizen”.

“A treaty is a law of the land whenever its provisions prescribe a rule by which the rights of the private citizen or subject may be determined.” ~ In re Cooper,  143 U.S. 472 (1892) 


  1. Cornell Law | 4 USC §109 nothing in sections 105 and 106 of this title shall be deemed to authorize the levy or collection of any tax on or from any Indian not otherwise taxed.
  2. Cornell Law | 4 USC §110 which allowed any department of the federal government to create a “federal area” for imposition of the Public Salary Tax Act of 1939.
  3. Wikipedia | Tribal Sovereignty; U.S. Constitution [1:8:3].
  4. You Are Law | Wards of the court. Infants and persons of unsound mind placed by the court under the care of a guardian. Davis Committee v. Loney, 290 Ky. 644, 162 S.W. 2d. 189, 190.
  5. Wikipedia | List of federally recognized tribes in the U.S.; Native Lands, National Geographic, August 2010, p. 80.
  6. Corpus Juris Secundum
  7. Cornell Law | Title 25 USC Indians whereas §172 provides complete abrogation of Indian Treaties.
  8. Cornell Law | U.S. v. The Schooner Peggy, 5 USC §103, 1 Cranch 103, 2 L.Ed 49 (1801).
  9. Supreme Justia | U.S. v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375 (1886).
  10. Wikipedia | Lyric by Joni Mitchell www.jonimitchell.com
  11. Wikipedia | Lyrics by Bruce Cockburn www.cockburnproject.net
  12. Quote by Johnny Liberty.
  13. Indian Country Today | If you don’t know treaties and sovereignty, you don’t know history.
  14. Wikipedia | U.S. Treaties with Indigenous Nations; Legal cite for a treaty as law of the land; Supreme Justia | In re Cooper, 143 U.S. 472 (1892), 12 Sup Ct. 453, 36L. Ed. 232.

Source: Sovereign’s Handbook by Johnny Liberty (30th Anniversary Edition), p.81-84


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