Tribal Government

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General Government

As a sovereign entity with inherent powers on par with those of the United States, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians has its own Constitution, the Cow Creek Constitution, separate and distinct from the Constitution of the United States.

Tribal sovereignty is an outgrowth of the historical documents of the United States of America, specifically the Northwest Ordinance of July 13, 1787, and the United States Constitution from September 17, 1787.

In general, in exercising their powers, sovereign tribes are somewhat like the 50 states of the United States of America. However, there is one crucial difference between Tribes and states: Federal law takes precedence over state (and other local) law; but federal law does not take precedence over Tribal sovereignty.

Tribal sovereignty carries with it several important responsibilities. First and foremost, being sovereign means that the Tribe is responsible for defending and protecting its own Tribal sovereignty. This fact was explicitly and eloquently expressed by Tribal Chairman Sue Shaffer in testimony in 1998 before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Second, being sovereign means that the Cow Creek Tribe has an explicit treaty with the United States federal government, and the Tribe is responsible for maintaining its formal relationship with the United States Government.

  • The Treaty ceded Cow Creek lands to the federal government.
  • Established a homeland for the Cow Creeks.
  • Defined a payment of $12,000 to the Tribe.
  • Identified some buildings and land for Cow Creek use.
  • Established preliminary guidelines to be followed when Indian and non-Indian disputes arise due to robbery, murder and other infractions.

Third, being sovereign also means that the Cow Creek Tribe is responsible for government services for the Indian people under its jurisdiction.

The Tribal Mission Statement addresses all three of these responsibilities:

The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians upholds Tribal Government, protects and preserves Tribal sovereignty, history, culture and the general welfare of the Tribal membership, and serves to provide for the long term economic needs of the Tribe and its members through economic development of Tribal lands. The Tribe encourages and promotes a strong work ethic and personal independence for Tribal members, while strongly upholding the “government to government” relationship with local, State and Federal governments. The Tribe constantly strives to maintain and develop strong cooperative relationships that benefit the Tribe and local community.


The straightforward idea of sovereign Tribes within the area claimed by the United States underwent, for the Tribes, a disastrous shift in 1953 when the federal government adopted a policy of termination, whose aim was:

“…as rapidly as possible, to make Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States [and] to end their status as wards of the United States.” (U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 108, 83rd Congress.)

One of the intentions of termination was to free the Indians from domination by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a result:

  • Their special relationship with the federal government ended.
  • They were subjected to state laws.
  • Their lands were converted to private ownership.

In 1958 Public Law 280 extended state civil and criminal law to Indian country in six specific states, including Oregon, except for the Warm Springs reservation. In 1954 the Cow Creeks along with 60 other Oregon bands and Tribes were terminated under Public Law 588, the Western Oregon Termination Act.

As Tribes were terminated, economic woes worsened. Lands were sold off and the proceeds were quickly dissipated, creating hardship for Indians.

Regaining Recognition

In 1980, for technical legal reasons having to do with the termination process itself, the Cow Creeks were able to obtain presidential action to take a land claims case to the U.S. Court of Claims. As a result, on December 29, 1982, 125 years after the original treaty was signed, Congress passed Public Law 97 – 391 and the Cow Creeks regained federal recognition. Subsequently, federal code was amended to cover the newly reinstated Tribe.

The Tribe and the State of Oregon

More recently, the State of Oregon realized there is much to be gained for all Oregon citizens by acknowledging and supporting Tribal sovereignty.

The Oregon Commission on Indian Services provides a permanent point of contact and an on-going forum for Tribal-State issues. The Commission advises the Legislative and Executive branches on ways to improve communication and coordination with Tribes in an effort to avoid unnecessary court disputes and to highlight shared interests.

Other Resources
Federal Government Websites

Related Documents

1. A summary and review of American Indian Law by William C. Canby, Jr., Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit, 1998, West Publishing Co.

Government Office

Government Office Location

Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
2371 NE Stephens, Suite 100
Roseburg, Oregon 97470
541.672.9405 or 1.800.929.8229