US Constitution

Supremacy/Commerce Clauses of the Constitution Explanation

The framers of the United States Constitution defined their desired relationship with Indian tribes through the Supremacy and Commerce Clauses.

The Commerce Clause says, “The Congress shall have power…to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3).  In addition to regulating trade relationships, the United States buys, sells, and trades goods and services with Indian nations much like they do with any other foreign nation.

But there is a difference. Because Indian Nations reside within the borders of the United States—and are subject to federal laws and taxes—they have special status that other countries like Canada and Mexico do not.  In exchange for permission to live on tribal land, the United States made promises to provide certain things for Indians, such as education and healthcare.  These promises, in the form of treaties, are still in force today.

The United States takes those promises very seriously. Our Constitution says, “…the laws of the United States…and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land…” (U.S. Article VI, Clause 2) This “Supremacy Clause” declares treaties as some of the most important laws in our country. In fact, treaties can override—or cancel out—local, state, and federal laws that violate treaty agreements.