State/Tribal Relations

Recent policy trends toward increased devolution of federal programs, and the constrained resources available at all levels of government, highlight the need for and benefits of intergovernmental coordination between tribes and states. Effective tribal-state relationships are essential to building a better tomorrow for all Americans.

NCAI works each day to underscore the benefits of intergovernmental coordination and collaborative problem solving.

Tribal nations and states have a range of common interests. Both share responsibility to use public resources effectively and efficiently; both seek to provide comprehensive services such as education, health care, and law enforcement to their respective citizens; and, both have interconnected interests in safeguarding the environment while maintaining healthy and diversified economies. Although direct nation-to-nation relations remain a fundamental principle of the federal government’s trust relationship with tribes, it is important that both tribes and states recognize the benefits of understanding intergovernmental processes and potential avenues for collaboration.

The Tribal-State Relations Project

With the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, NCAI worked from 1999–2009 to promote intergovernmental cooperation between tribes and states through a Tribal-State Relations Project. Through this project, NCAI, in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures, established a 12-member advisory council of tribal leaders and state legislators from across the country. Two national meetings per year were held to bring together tribal leaders, state legislators, and staff, and other interested parties. These meetings identified ways in which intergovernmental cooperation can be beneficial to both tribes and states. They also provided a forum for discussion on mutual issues of concern. The Project served as an information clearinghouse to track state and federal legislative developments; answered a wide range of questions on tribal-state issues; and developed publications for distribution to tribal leaders, state legislators, and the public at large.

The Tribal-State Collaboration Project

The leadership at NCAI is committed to improving methods for tribal-state relations, particularly in the realm of law enforcement. That is why in 2009, NCAI began partnering with the National Criminal Justice Association on a Tribal-State Collaboration and Justice Capacity Building Project. Given the complex jurisdictional scheme on tribal lands, intergovernmental coordination is absolutely essential to effective law enforcement in Indian Country.

The goal of the Tribal-State Collaboration Project is to increase awareness among tribal and state government officials of the benefits of intergovernmental coordination on justice issues and to replicate promising practices for improving public safety in tribal communities through tribal-state collaboration methods. There are several components to this project, including a webinar series, a Web site, working group meetings, pilot trainings, and a tribal-state collaboration toolkit. An unanticipated benefit of this project has been that it is a great vehicle by which to advance implementation of the Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA). NCAI’s participation in this project continues to build upon the organization’s already established portfolio of work on state and tribal cooperation.