Since first contact with Europeans, Native American nations have strived to maintain and strengthen their sovereignty. Yet, non-Native individuals and groups, as well as federal, state, and local governments, continue to challenge this sovereignty. Despite the critical importance of sovereignty, the only academic study focused on U.S. public attitudes toward Native nation sovereignty predated the rise of Native nation gaming and relied on samples from three universities. In our study, we surveyed over 2000 White Americans from across the United States to examine attitudes toward Native nation sovereignty. Of the many factors that may influence these attitudes, we focused on three: belief in “the casino Indian” stereotype, the perception that Native American interests conflict with the interests of Whites, and the presence of Native nation gaming in participants’ states.
We find two significant models predicting attitudes towards Native nation sovereignty. First, greater endorsement of the casino Indian stereotype is associated with more negative attitudes toward Native nation sovereignty. This relationship is explained, at least in part, by the perception that Native American interests conflict with the interests of Whites. That is, the more White participants endorsed the casino Indian sterereotype, the more apt they were to believe that their interests conflict with Native Americans, which in turn is related to more negative attitudes towards Native nation sovereignty. The second model revealed that the presence of Native nation gaming in the participant’s state has important indirect implications for attitudes towards Native nation sovereignty. Specifically, White participants living in states with Native nation gaming are more likely to endorse the casino Indian stereotype, which is related to greater perceived conflict of interest with Native Americans, and, ultimately perceived conflict of interest is associated with more negative attitudes toward Native nation sovereignty. We situate our findings relative to group position theory and discuss practical implications for Native nation sovereignty.