Prior to the creation of the United States, thousands of Native Nations have lived on this continent under their own government structures and rules. Each one determines their own guidelines for citizenship, just as the United States maintains its own criteria for citizenship. Native Nations often post this information on their websites. Citizens of a tribal nation have met the requirements for enrollment.
Today in the United States, nearly 600 tribes are federally recognized as sovereign nations, meaning they have a government-to-government relationship with the United States based on treaties and other federal laws. When the U.S. became a country, its leaders followed the practice of their European predecessors and signed treaties. Treaties are legal agreements between nations. U.S. leaders signed treaties recognizing the sovereignty of Native Nations living here and acknowledged their new country’s legal and political obligations to the tribes, in exchange for land. (Read here for more information on how federal recognition occurs.)
For those groups without federal recognition, the state where their group is primarily located may recognize them as a tribal nation. Each state has its own criteria for recognition and policies on how the state government relationship operates. State-recognized Native Nations, like federally recognized tribes, are sovereign nations within their state, with their own governing procedures.