I have read a news story about how a Native American tribe has been able to buy back an island from private ownership in their historic lands.

It is my understanding that some (all?) Native American tribes have a degree of sovereignty and control over some lands - for instance being able to build casinos on their lands where the laws of a state would not permit it.

Would any land acquired by the tribe automatically become a part of these (sovereign) tribal lands, or would it remain subject to the laws of the state? If not automatically, is there a process for the land to become a part of their sovereign soil?

By analogy here: if the Canadian government were to buy a random property in Berlin, I would think that that it would remain a part of Germany, not become a part of Canada. Whereas there have been times in history in which a government has purchased both land and sovereignty over it - e.g. the Louisiana purchase, which I'd imagine required an international treaty.

  • To the extent that we don't answer questions about the law, directly, this may be better suited there. I will point out that the Native American tribes are subject to treaties with the United States so the 'I'd imagine required an international treaty' requirement is met in that regard. Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 15:14
  • @WilliamWalkerIII to what extent does Politics not answer questions about law? There are scores of such questions here, if not hundreds.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 16:32
  • I'm not clear on the specific line, but it's there in the community guidelines, and the fact that Law.SE exists is brought up in close-votes fairly often. I'm not pretending to be an expert on the matter, which is why I didn't initiate a close vote here. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 16:33
  • 3
    I think the answer to this is: "It's complicated" Tribes cannot extend their sovereign land without an accord with the Federal government (which would amount to the federal government releasing sovereignty over that land). However, tribes can use land that they acquire on US soil with some of the sovereign immunities that they would have on their tribal land. It's similar to the way a consulate or embassy is considered an extension of its home country despite technically being on foreign soil. But it really is a law question, not a political one. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 19:36
  • @WilliamWalkerIII My impression is that it really depends on the question. If the question is about how the law would be applied in a specific case, or which law would apply to it, it's probably better on Law. If it's about why the law exists, who supports or opposes it, or its larger context or impact on the world, it's likely a better fit here. When it comes to international law, there's always a political dimension, because countries are sovereign and (if their leaders are so motivated) can just choose not to follow it. Doesn't make it OT on Law, but it does make it reasonable to ask here.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jun 11, 2021 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


According to your article headline;

The Passamaquoddy’s purchase of Pine Island for $355,000 is the latest in a series of successful land back campaigns for indigenous people in the US

According to the US Department of Interior website, the government instituted a 10 year Buy-Back Program from December 17, 2012 to November 24, 2022;

The principal goal of the Buy-Back Program was to consolidate the maximum number of fractional land interests through voluntary sales that placed purchased interests into trust for Tribes. These transfers increased Tribal trust land bases for conservation, stewardship, economic development, or other uses deemed beneficial by sovereign Tribal nations.

Further solidifying that the Pine Island purchase was part of the US DOI buy back programs is this map, showing a buy-back for the Passamaquoddy Tribe in 2021 in the same part of Maine where the Island is located. With that in mind, the owners of this land should

have a degree of sovereignty and control over some lands

given they were purchased with for them by the US Government with the intent to increase

Tribal trust land bases for conservation, stewardship, economic development, or other uses deemed beneficial by sovereign Tribal nations.

  • Right. So the land bought back is owned by a "sovereign Tribal nation"; that does not indicate whether it becomes part of their sovereign territory, however. It might not be, just as the OP pointed out that the government of Canada buying a plot of land in Berlin does not make that plot part of Canda.
    – cjs
    Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 14:55

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