Citizenship: United States, State of Alaska, Tribal


In the early days of the country, most Indian and Alaska Native people were not citizens of the United States. Citizenship was granted in a piecemeal fashion through various paths. Some treaties had provisions for U.S. citizenship, as did some Congressional statutes which intended for Indian people to give up traditional ways of life and assimilate into the mainstream American life. Serving in the Armed Forces was another way Indian people gained U.S. citizenship. 


Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted citizenship to all American Indian and Alaska Native people who were not already citizens of the United States. Under the Act, all Indian and Alaska Native people became U.S. citizens. They did not have to apply for citizenship, and they did not have to give up their tribal citizenship to become U.S. citizens. 

Rules regarding state citizenship vary from state to state. In Alaska, the Alaska Territorial Legislature extended Alaska Citizenship to Alaska Native people with an Act in 1915. Under that same Act, there was a very complicated and difficult procedure for Alaska Natives to become citizens of the United States. Not many gained U.S. citizenship that way. 

Rules regarding tribal citizenship (membership) are determined by each tribe and there are considerable variations from tribe to tribe. Tribes have exclusive jurisdiction, or the power to determine their own membership rules. Alaska Native people can be citizens of the United States, the State of Alaska, and also of one or more tribes. In other words, citizens of the three sovereigns in the United States: United States sovereign, State of Alaska sovereign, and Tribal sovereign.