Tribal Constitutions: Constructing Power by Developing Structures of Self-Governance

Project: Research project

Project Details


OVERVIEW The Tribal Constitutions Project (TCP) examines the evolution of tribal sovereignty though constitutionalization. We seek funding to analyze a comprehensive database of 1,053 tribal constitutions represent nearly 150 years of tribal constitutional history. We propose to use the database to address four critical research areas in tribal governance and courts: (1) constitutional origins and the federal-tribal relationship; (2) constitutions, rights, and citizenship; (3) tribal courts, constitutional development, and sovereign powers; and (4) the structure of legislative power and the development of tribal sovereignty. We seek to map the trajectory of tribal structures, forged in the shadow of colonization, to understanding how tribes claim power, articulate sovereignty, and define a just society. INTELLECTUAL MERIT Tribal sovereignty is multi-faceted and dynamic. To understand it requires attention to its many aspects and iterations. The decision to constitutionalize, and the content of a constitution, give insight into how a society thinks about self-determination, self-governance, and justice. Questions of coercion, power, development, and colonization depend on comparison of numerous institutions, a reading of complex constitutional documents, and methods which allow visualization of these changes over time. The Tribal Constitutions Project utilizes the latest computational social science techniques, and complex qualitative legal analysis, to bring tribal governance into the scholarly discussion of comparative constitutional development. Centering the experience of tribes in constitutional studies will not only advance work on colonialism and self-determination, it will provide concrete insights into the ways in which constitutional language shapes political discourse. BROADER IMPACTS That much of the scholarship on tribal constitutions focuses on guidance for tribes stresses the policy importance of this work. Tribes continually re
Effective start/end date2/15/211/31/25


  • National Science Foundation (SES 2044007)


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