Exploring the concepts of sovereignty and belonging among the Bad River Chippewa (Wisconsin)

Elizabeth Arbuckle Wabindato
School of Public Policy, University of Michigan
July, 2006


This dissertation examines the concepts of tribal sovereignty and a tribal sense of belonging, as well as the intersection of those ideas. It offers new ways to think about tribal sovereignty and a tribal sense of belonging. It also shows that sovereignty and belonging can be linked in a meaningful way. Tribal sovereignty is often defined by outside recognition from the federal government. Tribal belonging has not been fully explored in the literature. However, urban Indian belonging argues that American Indians can feel a strong sense of belonging as a people.
This project uses qualitative analysis of Bad River Chippewa tribal member respondents from three separate locations to create concepts of tribal sovereignty and tribal belonging. This analysis demonstrates that Bad River members believe sovereignty is a blend of outside recognition and domestic authority, where they are partly responsible for the future viability of tribal sovereignty. Also, this research finds that tribal belonging can manifest in two forms. Tribal members can feel a sense of belonging to the tribal continuum, which extends from their ancestors to the Seventh Generation. They can also feel a sense of belonging to today's tribal community. Furthermore, tribal members can have different kinds of tribal identities shaped by their residence location, life experiences, current decisions and attitudes regarding the tribe and fellow tribal members. This work finds that Bad River tribal members believe sovereignty and belonging are linked. They would find it unacceptable to have one without the other. This does not imply that sovereignty is necessary to have a sense of belonging, but in cases where it is in place, sovereignty can play a significant role in bolstering group belonging and reinforcing positive aspects of individual identity. Ultimately, these findings illuminate new frameworks for understanding how tribal members view tribal sovereignty and tribal belonging. It also provides a new way to think about tribal members, as one political body; not urban versus reservation residents.