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.