“Because they were signed by the tribes concerned in good faith, we consider them as valid treaties . . . .That the United States did not uphold their validity in the final analysis does not mean either that the tribes did not consider them seriously or that the United States did not gain a great benefit from them.”
— Vine Deloria, Jr.
Native villages, communities, and tribes existed as sovereign political entities before European settlement. Federal treaties guaranteed self-determination–or sovereignty. Federally recognized tribes continue to have a special, legal relationship with the United States. This government-to-government relationship supports the right to govern oneself (sovereignty), determine citizenship, administer justice, raise revenue, establish businesses, and exclude individuals from reservation lands. The U.S. Constitution requires that any treaty negotiated in good faith with the United States must be ratified to take effect, or as Article II Section 2 states, that the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”
By granting treaty-making powers to the Office of Indian Affairs superintendents and agents , the U.S. government fulfilled the first part of the Treaty Clause, but by failing to gain two thirds Senate approval (ratification) a treaty is void. In order for the U.S. President and Congress to negotiate a treaty the government must acknowledge the sovereignty of that nation, which they did in the Tansey Point Treaties. However, the courts have viewed treaty ratification as a test or proof of federal recognition.
Because their initial treaties were never ratified, Chinook sovereignty has become the ultimate point of contention. The federal government insists that failure to ratify the treaties means the Chinook were never officially recognized. Reflecting the good faith Vine Deloria, Jr. referred to above, the Chinook argue that the negotiation itself confirms their status as sovereign political entities. They contend that they have been recognized on all levels, except by Congress: through annuities and land allotments in the early twentieth century; granting of Indian trust lands on the Washington Coast; Indian “blue cards” for fishing; delivery of BIA services; federal enrollment of Chinook in the McChesney and Roblin Rolls; and in the act of Termination itself in the 1950s. Each of these formal actions reaffirm a continuous government-to-government relationship, as do informal consultations by state and federal agencies like the Washington Department of Transportation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service, among many others.