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Are Native Americans Dual Citizens?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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This is a difficult issue to address, considering the historic plight of Native Americans and the highly controversial nature of the relationship between the United States government and native tribes. Native Americans were not officially granted US citizenship until 1924, and some states continued not to recognize their legal rights as full citizens until the late 1940s.

The United States government has designated almost 600 locations in the country as sovereign Indian territories, which means that Native American leaders in those areas can establish their own laws, public services, taxes, and other rights left to the other 50 states. What they cannot do is establish their own military or issue their own currency, which puts Indian reservations in the same subservient position as states and overseas territories. In that sense, the people who live there are considered US citizens who happen to live on property that the government technically holds in trust.

It may be more accurate to think of Native Americans as US citizens who must pay federal taxes, obtain US birth certificates, register for a US Social Security number, and carry a US driver's license for identification. This is considered to be a separate issue from nationality per se, which means that someone living on tribal territory is always free to consider himself or herself a member of a recognized tribal nation.

In the strictest legal sense, Native Americans do not have dual citizenship between their tribal lands and the United States, since the tribal territories are not recognized as separate and sovereign nations. They are considered "domestic dependent nations" by the US government. A controversial Bureau of Indian Affairs still addresses issues between the federal government and individual tribal leaders, not the office of Secretary of State. This lack of official recognition as independent sovereign nations continues to be a source of contention between some native political leaders and the US government.

If an individual tribal territory should succeed in obtaining true sovereign nation status, the people who live there may indeed be in a position to claim dual citizenship, with duplicate legal documentation and equal rights to participate in political elections and other civic duties. The question of loyalty to a particular nation may become an issue if this new nation chose to raise up its own military within the geographical boundaries of the United States, however.

Native Americans are generally considered to be citizens of the United States or Canada first, then legal residents of their chosen tribal lands second. It would be the equivalent of a state resident being legally considered a US citizen but residing in Ohio or Nebraska or California. Those states are allowed to form their own governments and enforce their own laws, but they are still subject to the rules and regulations of the United States as a whole.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon993647 — On Dec 01, 2015

Do Native Americans vote for the U.S. President? I live in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We are citizens but don't have the right to vote for President.

By anon333581 — On May 06, 2013

According to the US Department of Justice, federally recognized tribes (including the The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation) are domestic dependent nations -

This point was used in court in a suit against the U.S. government and the court said that wasn't true. They're not dependent and the U.S. has no obligation to them as dependents. 'Heads I win tails you lose'.

By anon322652 — On Feb 28, 2013

I stumbled across this article while doing research on health disparities of "Native American Indians" for a college paper. Being of European descent myself (at least six generations of my ancestors have lived on American land), I would like to shed some light on the extent of our ignorance.

First, in response to anon31379, we say "Native Americans" or "American Indians" because there is not much information readily available to us about specific tribes. In fact, many of us don't even know the names of or the locational regions of most tribes. All we really know is that the U.S. government has had an historically oppressive relationship toward all Native peoples, and the socioeconomic disparities and health issues are roughly the same across all Tribal nations.

Second, I personally was curious about dual citizenship of Native Americans because I read on the CDC website that, "AI/AN tribes exercise inherent sovereign powers over their members, territory, and lands." So I wanted to know what that meant, and if tribal members were subject to U.S. government and its laws. When I think "citizenship," I don't think of rights to land; there is no question in my mind regarding the rights of Native Americans to this land; it's a no-brainer. Rather, I think of citizenship as referring to legal obligation to a particular government.

My third display of ignorance is that we don't get taught the history of Native Tribes in school. In fact, we don't get taught the horrors of our genocidal past until college. Prior to that, we are only taught a lopsided account of war-and-treaty with Native Americans, similar to what anon32014 was saying. Any Native American who attended a public school off-reservation can verify this, especially those in metropolitan areas. So, if a typical U.S. non-Native resident only completed high school and never went to college, he/she would have to do extensive research individually to even find historically accurate information about various tribal nations. Either that, or get to know some local tribal members. The problem with that, though, is that when someone like me is trying to do that in a non-organic fashion (like suddenly ask questions of a Native person/group, rather than just happening to develop a friendship), it is often met with skepticism and mistrust. Of course, I don't blame them for that. I'm just saying that it doesn't help alleviate our ignorance.

In response to anon54008, I think your best weapon would be to educate non-Natives of your plight. I think there are plenty of people just like me who are simply ignorant, but would be willing to support the idea of working out a better deal for you if we only knew.

By anon307639 — On Dec 06, 2012

My grandmother was full Blood Tsalagi (Cherokee) Her youngest brother is still alive, so yes there are full bloods still left. Many of them. My mother is 1/2, and I'm 1/4. I'm the whitest, natural blonde 1/4th Tsalagi you'll ever meet. Genetics are funny.

I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. You can't be a Mexican (not my words) and just get in like someone said before. Your family has to be documented on the Old Settler, James, Dawes, etc. Rolls. Remember, we suffered a genocide and were given numbers for identity. That's where Hitler got his ideas for his Holocaust, from what happened to us. Almost 19 million were lost in this tragedy.

So no, you cannot claim to be something because your skin tone looks similar to ours. You have to show your documentation from the genocide

that good ol' Andrew Jackson committed and the ones before him and after.

The US government and our government work closely together. As do most Nations, we have a great relationship with the US government because of our former Chief Wilma Mankiller, who paved this way for the other Indigenous Nations. We have our own elections, court systems, laws, hospitals and territory that is Sovereign.

Your laws do not apply on are lands because of this sovereignty. We are allotted money from the US government yearly to pay for the things mentioned above because of our treaties with them. We allow them to use our lands for military training, the leasing of mineral rights, etc. So that free ride someone mentioned is entirely free. These are our lands and our money. You lease, you pay.

We do have citizenship cards with a photo ID. These cards allow us to enter and exit any port in the United States, just like a passport would. You can enter the highest secured government establishments with these IDs. The US government is currently working with other countries to recognize these IDs as passports as well. Some already do. And yes, we are with all tribes, we are Nations. I hope that helped.

By anon297071 — On Oct 14, 2012

My grandfather wasn't born a citizen of the United States - he was born a citizen of an Indian nation. He became a US citizen when the tribe's land was allotted, well before 1924. Many Indians were US citizens before 1924. Those acts from the 1920s just made citizenship apply to all Indians in the US.

My grandfather and many other Indians fought in World War I. In fact, more Indians have fought in US wars, as a percentage of total population, than any other group. When it really counts, your enemies are our enemies and we fight side-by-side. We do have our differences, and those can be significant, but when non-Indians attack Indians, they would do well to remember our common sacrifice, as well as our varied pasts.

By anon294814 — On Oct 03, 2012

Some Native Americans are legal dual citizens due to their heritage! My father, an Algonquin, (Mi'kmaq) has citizenship in both Canada and the United States because of the "Jay treaty." His tribe migrated between Maine and Nova Scotia before white men devised a border between the United States and Canada. There were no borders then, therefore both countries are his ancestral land.

By anon158404 — On Mar 07, 2011

are there any full blood Eastern Band Cherokees left? not many and most of them are Mexican Indians who claim to be Cherokee like the tourist trap in Cherokee, NC, where Mexican Indians dress up and claim to be Cherokees.

By anon109511 — On Sep 07, 2010

@Anon32014: As a member of the Quinault Indian Nation, all my life, I am here to inform you. I don't know where you got the idea we got free college scholarships. many tribes are lucky to give a $2,000 scholarship every three years. The money from that comes from revenue that comes from timber land for our nation, and it varies depending on the tribes resources.

Health care: Ihs clinics are poorly equipped, and cannot afford to keep up with basic necessities such as cleaning supplies or toilet paper or kleenex. the "doctors" are about as educated as a CNA. and the school i went to, my senior year we were learning 10th grade english, math, and science. so everything you hear is ridiculous and lies.

i think you need to stop sticking up your nose and actually learn what it is like to live in poverty.

By anon85270 — On May 19, 2010

yes, anon32014--Indian Tribes do pay state's gaming compacts to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and this is for a small casino. much larger casinos pay millions.

In addition, there are governmental agreements for highway development, economic and educational development payments.

These dollars subsidize state budgets that are in the deficit! Try keeping up on Indian Gaming-it's in the news.

By anon85010 — On May 18, 2010

Ignorance is bliss as illustrated by anon3214. It is easier to hate if you can justify it with misinformation.

The reason we, Native People, have "free" health care (if it can be called that, most IHS doctors couldn't make it as a janitor in a real hospital) is because of negotiated treaties with the federal government. Free school is provided to everyone (public schools) not just Native people.

No one gets a free college education, especially native people. I worked nights to pay for my education, just like non-natives. I grew up on a reservation and trust me it is not a "pretty good deal" to live in poverty.

The technically superior Europeans killed 40 percent of indigenous Americans with germ warfare. Accidentally or intentionally, the European diseases that came with the early settlers caused more human devastation than any military action.

Abe Lincoln said, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to speak and remove all doubt". Give Abe's advice a try anon32014.

By anon67278 — On Feb 24, 2010

I am a so-called Native American and I don't go to school for free, nor do I get anything for free. Maybe we wouldn't complain if our land was given back and if the U.S. government wouldn't try to rule over our people and our decisions. Maybe Anon32014 should know what the bleep he's talking about before going off on assumptions.

By anon65189 — On Feb 11, 2010

It's amazing how misinformed a zealot can be. Take anon54008 for instance. He or she is irrational enough to imagine that this government would ever be forced into giving anything back to someone who thinks he could use force to achieve his idiotic goals. The real Cherokees of the past were a proud and capable people.

By anon56129 — On Dec 12, 2009

I'm Oneida of the Thames, and I give anon31379 a thumbs up!

By anon54008 — On Nov 26, 2009

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nations is in fact an independent nation and is recognized internationally as well as by the US Government.

Eastern Band Cherokees are not automatically US Citizens and as recorded do not desire to be.

As a Cherokeee I'm disgusted to be called an American Citizen. The only consolation is the millions of dollars paid not as welfare, but as payment of the 36 treaties signed by the US Government. Unfortunately, many other Native American Nations were subjected to a holocaust and were subjugated legally and financially.

By the grace of God, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation was spared from such destruction by the Confederate States of America and retains its land privately without Federal Assistance.

As far as the US Government, keep paying the bill you owe and perhaps, just perhaps we won't invite your enemies to help us take back what is ours.

P.S. Thanks for the military training that will be used against you.

By anon32014 — On May 14, 2009

The federal government subsidizes the Native American reservations with free health care, schools, and ridiculously free college scholarships. It isn't a bad deal for a group of people who were militarily defeated by a technologically superior group (Europeans). I'm not saying it was the right thing to do, I'm just saying there are virtually no "conquered" nations out there where the citizens are able to put their noses in the public trough centuries after their military defeat. It is a pretty good deal and Native Americans should be thankful we don't say enough is enough. Has anyone ever heard of an Indian Nation giving some of its gambling money back to the government for reimbursement?? Didn't think so.

By crazypeak — On May 04, 2009

no comment

By anon31379 — On May 04, 2009

Native American Indians (as non-native people call us) are indigenous to this country, to all of North America. Til this day, it's amazing that non-native people, especially the people who are of European descent, still question our citizenship. As Indigenous people from tribal lands that we were militantly forced upon, we still remain here from 100,000 of years ago before foreign people mistakenly stumbled on *our* civilization and non-native people still question our citizenship? lol...that's so funny & ignorant! For further reference, please address Native Indigenous people more specifically to their tribal affiliation. Don't assume we are all from the same tribe, as I know all whites are not from Europe!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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