Indigenous self-government under state recognition: Comparing strategies in two cases

Contemporary events frequently call into question the status of state-recognized Native nations. For example, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) failed to pass a resolution dissolving state-recognized membership; and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on the reality of federal funding being awarded to non-federally recognized Native nations. Although state-recognized Native nations are handicapped in their strategies and the availability of resources to assert their right to self-determine, some have persevered despite the inability to establish a direct relationship with the national government. Reconsidering federalism as it pertains to Native nations reveals opportunities for non-federally recognized Native nations to access resources and assert self-governing authority in alternative arenas outside the exclusive tribal-national government-to-government relationship.

My research analyzes how two state-recognized Native nations, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and the Waccamaw Indian People of South Carolina, have operated as political actors; have maintained their communities; have organized politically and socially; and have asserted their right to self-determine by engaging state—and at certain times federal—politics to address needs within their communities. I used a qualitative case study approach to examine the strategies these two state-recognized Native nations have developed to engage state relationships. I argue that state-recognized Native nations are developing significant political relationships with their home states and other entities, such as federal, state, and local agencies, and nonprofits, to address issues in their communities.


Danielle Hiraldo


Robert Hershey




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences