There are 566 Indian tribes that are formally recognized by the United States government.
Another term for a tribe is an Indian nation. The two largest tribes are the Navajo Nation (located in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) and the Cherokee Nation (located in Oklahoma). Tribes come in all different sizes. For example, there are more than 300,000 Navajos. Other tribes are quite small, sometimes as few as a several dozen people.
Each tribe has a unique name. Examples include the Pueblo of Sandia (in New Mexico), Chickaloon Native Village (in Alaska), the Onondaga Nation (in New York), the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (of South Dakota), and the Lummi Nation (in Washington State).
One of the most important things to understand is that Indian tribes(or Indian nations) are sovereign. This means that tribes have their own governments, which have powers to make many decisions. Just like other nations around the world, Indian nations have their own constitutions, elect or appoint their own leaders, create their own laws, and fly their own flags. Tribes often build their own schools to educate their youth. They may have their own police force to keep their citizens safe. Or they might have their own tribal hospital, where their people go when they are sick or get injured. The constitution of the United States recognizes tribal sovereignty, and the tribes and the U.S. government have what’s called a “government-to-government” relationship. This means that the U.S. government works with the tribes as governments – not as individuals – just as the U.S. government works with other governments, including the 50 states. In the United States, there are numerous types of governments. The federal government, state governments, local governments and tribal governments.
Andrew Lee (Seneca Indian name: Ono-dah-geyh) is a trustee of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (which tells the real story of Native peoples in the Western Hemisphere, educating and inspiring millions of visitors from America and around the globe) as well as numerous other boards and advisory councils in service to Indian Country.