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Original Indigenous Economies
Sovereignty is about the right and capacity to govern. As historian Pekka Hämäläine defines it, sovereignty in an Indigenous context can be best understood as a self-identified group’s right and capacity to govern itself against foreign powers that claim superior authority over it.” Hämäläinen adds a crucial caveat to his definition that explains why Indian Nation sovereignty as been elusive. He asserts that sovereignty “has to be recognized by others to be effective.” For this reason, sovereignty is, according to historian James Sheehan (quoted by Hämäläinen), “the ongoing process of making, unmaking, and revising sovereign claims.”

Jurisdiction, a question of territory and authority, is the power to make rules and decisions about matters depending on the people, place, and resources in question.


A ward is someone who is legally considered incapable of managing her own affairs and is therefore assigned to a guardian tasked to watch over the ward herself and/or her property. A ward may retain ownership of property, but is not allowed to enter into contracts regarding the property.

Ownership Claims
Ownership claims establish exclusive rights to determine how a resource is used or exchanged. Ownership claims are often called property rights and may be held by individuals, families, groups, or governments.

Traditional Territory
Traditional territory is the term used to describe the lands that were recognized to be the lands

For a more complete glossary of terms, check out the Indian Land Tenure Foundation’s Land Tenure Glossary.

Ledger Art
Ledger art is an example of adaptation. When buffalo hides provided the primary source of material for clothing, teepees, and household goods, Plains Indian adorned them with colorful art that told stories and recorded Plains Indian history. However, after the buffalo were nearly hunted to extinction and tribes were forced to abandon their nomadic ways, Plains Indians lacked a medium for expressing their art and telling their stories. They adapted by using ledger books discarded by federal Indian agents and trading companies.

One story of how ledger art got its start is that a Native American warrior, seeking to feed his starving family, was offered a cow by the local community. Too proud to accept the charity, the hungry man refused the food unless he worked or traded for it. Using a discarded ledger book, he began drawing on the pages and selling the drawings for a quarter to raise money to pay for the cow.