Rethinking Rewriting: Tribal Constitutional Amendment and Reform


This essay examines the recent wave of American Indian tribal constitutional change through the framework of subnational constitutional theory. When tribes rewrite their constitutions, they not only address internal tribal questions and communicate tribal values, but also engage with other subnational entities, i.e. states, and the federal government. It applies that framework to a study of tribal constitutional amendment and reform procedures. Focusing on the processes of constitutional change produces insight into tribes' status as “domestic dependent sovereigns” in the contemporary era of self-determination, a status reflected in the opportunities, and limitations, inherent in tribal constitutions. In so doing, this essay aims to highlight an aspect of tribal constitution writing that enables successful reform and communicates the significance and goals of constitutionalism within the tribal context.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Hipp, Jason P. "Rethinking Rewriting: Tribal Constitutional Amendment and Reform." Columbia Journal of Race and Law. Vol. 4:1, 73-95. 2013. Article. (, accessed October 18, 2023)

Related Resources


Guests Joseph P. Kalt and Sophie Pierre explore the evidence that strong Native nations require strong foundations, which necessarily require the development of effective, internally created constitutions (whether written or unwritten). It examines the impacts a constitution has on the people it…

Tribes across the country are re-examining their constitutions

Erma Vizenor is not exactly a revolutionary. But like America’s founders, she’s on a mission to ratify a new constitution in her homeland – the White Earth tribal nation. Most Americans don’t realize that tribes have their own constitutions, which set down rules for everything from tribal…

Northern Cheyenne Tribe: Traditional Law and Constitutional Reform

This profile by Sheldon C. Spotted Elk examines the U.S. government's infringement on the Northern Cheyenne's political sovereignty. Most significantly, it examines the relationship between the oral history of the Northern Cheyenne and its impact on traditional tribal governance and law. Following…