Skull Valley Crossroads: Reconciling Native Sovereignty and the Federal Trust
88 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2008 Last revised: 29 Jun 2009
Date Written: August 12, 2008
It has been long-recognized that a deep tension pervades federal American Indian law. The foundational principles of the field - on the one hand, the notion that tribes keep their inherent right of sovereignty and, on the other, that the federal government has a power and duty to protect them - clash on their face. Despite years of criticism of this conflict, the two principles continue to coexist, albeit uncomfortably. Using the example of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians' controversial proposal to store high-level nuclear waste on their land, this Article revisits the tension in these doctrines, weighs prior proposals attempting to reconcile them, and concludes that, ultimately, sovereignty and the federal trust are not reconcilable. Finding sovereignty superior -morally, historically, and politically - the Article thus offers a new model for promoting native sovereignty: allowing tribes to be treated similarly to states.
Keywords: Tribal sovereignty, self-determination, federal trust doctrine, federal trust responsibility, plenary power, Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, tribal economic development, environmental justice, environmental racism, neo-colonialism, tribal-state relations, nuclear waste
JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation