Passamaquoddy at Sipayik

Pleasant Point Tribal Government


Peskotom = Pollock

Trust Responsibility

Trust Responsibility January 18, 2017 US DOI
Trust Responsibility August 20, 2014 US DOI

What is the federal Indian trust responsibility?

The federal Indian trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States "has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust" toward Indian tribes (Seminole Nation v. United States, 1942). This obligation was first discussed by Chief Justice John Marshall in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). Over the years, the trust doctrine has been at the center of numerous other Supreme Court cases, thus making it one of the most important principles in federal Indian law.

The federal Indian trust responsibility is also a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on the part of the United States to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well as a duty to carry out the mandates of federal law with respect to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages. In several cases discussing the trust responsibility, the Supreme Court has used language suggesting that it entails legal duties, moral obligations, and the fulfillment of understandings and expectations that have arisen over the entire course of the relationship between the United States and the federally recognized tribes.

In 1832 the US Supreme Court recognized a trust relationship to Indian tribes. In short, the court recognized that the federal government has a duty to protect and to recognize the independence of tribal government authority. This recognition is the basis of the trust relationship between the tribes and the United States. This trust relationship is used to advance tribal sovereignty and to protect tribal property interests.

Although Worcester v Georgia recognized tribal sovereignty, the trust relationship, along with colonizing philosophy, has been used in part to justify national policy disastrous for tribes. The federal trust responsibility is a product of colonialism, and the United States is the political successor to the European nations that started the colonizing process.

FERC's Policy
FERC Policy in Federal Register, 2019
NCAI Comments on Trust Responsibility, 2016
Law Review Article, Trust Responsibility
Another Law Review, Trust Responsibility
USFWS Endangered Species
US DOC Tribal Resource Guide
2004 Article, Trust Obligations of the BIA
ANA Trust Responsibility
DOE Guide, 2000
Protecting Tribal Lands, Article
Kevin Washburn Article, 2017