Many Indigenous nations and tribes are not formally recognized by the United States government. However, many are, and they maintain government-to-government relationships with the United States.

Under duress, these Indigenous nations and confederated tribes signed treaties with the United States. But the United States, state governments and local governments have historically flouted these treaty agreements.

Treaty rights include rights to hunt and gather food in traditional landscapes and waterways. These rights, for example, extend beyond official reservation lands, and into the spaces where towns have been built and picket fences erected.

The exploitation of landscapes and waterways as well as the incorporation of settler municipalities have taken place without regard to the treaties. It’s time for municipalities to actually recognize and then become governed by local treaties. 

Some towns and cities led the way in recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day. They can do the same, for substantive recognition of the treaties.

For generations, Indigenous rights movements have demanded recognition and implementation of the treaties. However, no municipality in the United States, that I am aware of, gives real deference to treaty rights within a municipal “jurisdiction.” 

Informed by coalition building and relationship building with local Indigenous nations, municipalities can help lead the way in recognizing and becoming governed by the treaties on the land they sit upon.

We see seeds of such a movement, developing alongside Rights of Nature law making, in places like Quebec, where sister lawmaking was enacted by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality in northern Quebec, to recognize the rights of the Magpie River. And in New Zealand, where the Parliament passed the Te Urewera Act, finalizing a settlement between the Tūhoe people and the government. The Act recognizes the Te Urewera — a former national park, of more than 2,000 square kilometers — as having “legal recognition in its own right.” The New Zealand Parliament finalized the Te Awa Tupua Act, granting the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem.

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