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Compatibility of the Federal Trust Responsibility With Self-Determination of Indian Tribes: Reflections on Development of the Federal Trust Responsibility in the Twenty-First Century

Reid Peyton Chambers, Natural Resources Development in Indian Country (2005)

Modern federal Indian policy enunciated by both federal political branches -- Congress and the Executive -- since the late 1960s has promoted the “self-determination” of Indian tribes and communities, through strengthened tribal governments and increased economic self-sufficiency. This policy of strengthening tribal governments, together with promoting Indian economic development, actually commenced during the New Deal with enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, 1 which was drafted and strongly supported by the Roosevelt Administration. 2 This Act enabled tribes to reorganize their governments and began to free those governments from decades of intensive federal paternalism during which Indian people and reservation lands had been governed -- essentially as colonies -- by federal bureaucrats Indians did not elect or appoint, and who were accountable to superiors in the Executive Branch and ultimately Congress, not to the Indians. For example, in the debate when the Senate considered the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the bill's sponsor, Senator Wheeler, stated that “the Indian agent located upon an Indian reservation, was a czar.” 3

Even as late as 1968, the Harvard Law Review reported that:

Although the normal expectation in American society is that a private individual or group may do anything unless it is specifically prohibited by the gove