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Tribes are sovereign nations with authorities and responsibilities over their land and people. This inherent sovereign authority includes the right to promote and protect the health and welfare of their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought national attention to the health inequities experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The sovereign legal authority for Tribes to respond to this pandemic has received less attention. This Chapter describes some, but not all, of the urgent legal issues impacting Tribal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It describes and identifies gaps in federal Indian health policies and highlights how Tribes have exercised their sovereignty to respond and promote resilience in the wake of COVID-19. It also provides examples of intergovernmental challenges. It highlights how ignorance of or animosity to federal Indian law has led non-Tribal governments to infringe on Tribal sovereign rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. It ends by providing a list of recommendations on how law can be better used to support Tribal responses as the pandemic unfolds.

This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.