Sovereign nation domain designation is good signal

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In this day and age, the handle by which your nation, company or organization is accurately represented on the Internet can be seriously important. This concern over web names gives added strength to the announcement last week by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs that federally recognized Indian tribes can utilize the government suffix .gov on their Internet domain name.

Not only that, but a tribe's domain name now also brings behind it a dash and the letters "nsn," followed by the .gov designation. According to Interior, which reached a cooperative agreement with the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for granting the .gov domain name suffix to government entities, the "nsn" acronym stands for "Native sovereign nation." When combined with www and the nation's name, the domain name will say www.tribesname-nsn.gov.

An initiative by the Department of the Interior's (DOI) Indian Affairs, called eGovernment, locked in the idea at the General Services Administration to enable federally recognized Indian tribes to use the new domain suffix on the World Wide Web. Expect the idea to take off. This is a meaningful new use of name and symbol. It weaves a good measure of de-facto acceptability of the reality of sovereign Indian nations into the fabric of American and, in fact, global consciousness.

Many opponents have and continue to denigrate the notion that American Indian nations should have the right to retain their inherent and hard-kept status as peoples and jurisdictions predating the United States on these same lands. They consistently try to imply that Native nations ceased to exist, or that because they don't always have contiguous borders and standing armies, they can not assert that they are sovereign. But these types of arguments can not quite define Indians out of existence. Native nations made treaties and have legal histories with and within the United States of America. This inherent sovereignty, this basic truth, is not a reality easily erased.

Understandably, American Indian sovereignty is not exercised evenly across the country. Tribes face many constraints in the application of their powers and authorities ? relative to the federal government, the states, competing jurisdictions, contested land bases ? but, no matter how downtrodden a tribe, the sovereignty of American Indian nations can not simply be taken away. Some tribes do give and have given sovereign rights away in agreements, often as trade-offs for what they have deemed as survival needs or for more cooperative relations with other governments, but otherwise the right of sovereignty is original, natural and always retained.

Thus the United States always does well to recognize this truth and to try to work with it. As Indian leaders of our acquaintance often say, great nations, like all great leaders, ultimately should act out of greatness, and keep their word. This is the principle that keeps the world from breaking down into chaos. A level of dignity should be kept among nations. Since the time of the framers, as expressed in the U.S. Constitution itself ? in the commerce clause, Indian nations are recognized "as something distinct from the United States," writes Professor David E. Wilkins. Tribes even have a more mature sovereignty, predating the Constitution.

In the past 30 years, as a result of much Indian activism and some surprising sources of enlightenment in government, policies of tribal self-determination and self-governance have become more defined and enforceable. While the U.S. Supreme Court has moved to limit Indian sovereignty since the 1980s, successive U.S. presidents since Richard Nixon, and most Congresses since the early 1970s, have repeatedly reasserted the policy that reaffirms the inherent Indian nation possession of a distinct Native nation sovereignty. Over the past quarter century, too, many of the institutions that directly affect the politics and cultural dimensions of Indian lives, such as the BIA and the National Museum of the American Indian, are increasingly guided by professional Indian hands.

We congratulate Interior Assistant Secretary ? Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb on his sponsorship of this idea and for his statement that the initiative affirms "President Bush's policy of treating American Indian tribes as sovereign governments." We understand that the context of the policy is symbolic and representational, and will cost the government very little in terms of budget, but appreciate it nonetheless. Every recognition of the distinct reality of American Indian peoples and nations helps to do honor to the covenant of the United States with the original nations of Indian country. When America acts from a basis of honor and integrity in its dealings with Indian governments, it distinguishes itself as an ever-improving nation worthy of its constitution and its expressed values.

In this context, President George W. Bush is in step with several presidents since Richard M. Nixon (whose Quaker upbringing seems to have brought him a measure of fairness toward American Indians) and, perhaps the most accomplished President in this regard, Jimmy Carter. Nixon's and Carter's Indian policies and, in fact, even those of Bush's own father, 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush, might be generally a positive source of contemplation and inspiration for this president.

American Indian sovereignty is a torch worth carrying, and with this fine measure President Bush feeds the enlightenment of the American public. Let us all hope it burns more brilliant in the coming years, and shines its light most brightly on the states of Texas and Kansas.