This essay examines a double bind that faces indigenous peoples in the Anglophone settler states, the double bind of need-based sovereignty. This double bind works as follows: indigenous sovereigns, such as American Indian tribal nations, require economic resources to exercise sovereignty, and their revenues often derive from their governmental rights; however, once they exercise economic power, the legitimacy of indigenous sovereignty and citizenship is challenged within settler society. Through analysis of Florida Seminole gaming and the threatened severance of Seminoles’ governmental status by mid-1900s federal “termination” policy, I show how economy-linked limits to indigenous sovereignty and citizenship rest on debates over culture, over what it is that renders American Indians distinctive as individuals and as collectives. Today, as during termination debates, Seminoles and other American Indian peoples struggle to position their economic well-being not as an anomaly or an abandonment of indigenous ways but, rather, as the result of an ongoing commitment to collective self-governance. With the sounds of termination echoing in gaming debates, it is possible to identify the reemergence of need-based sovereignty as a key modality of settler colonialism in the United States.
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