"domestic dependent nations." Justice Marshall used the word "domestic" because they are not foreign; rather, they are nations within a nation. He used the word "dependent" because he saw them as primitive nations that were under the guardianship or the responsibility of the federal government. Because of this guardian relationship, the Supreme Court recognized that there was a duty of protection owed to the tribes by the United States. This duty, sometimes called the federal government's trust responsibility toward the Indians, continues to exist today.
Today, the official policy of Congress and the President is to support "self-determination" for Indian tribes. The federal government has a "government-to-government" relationship with each of the 565 Indian tribal governments in the United States that are officially recognized by the federal government. Each of these tribes has different cultural values. Though the federal government no longer signs treaties with Indian tribes, Congress has enacted laws requiring the federal government to consult with tribes when it makes decisions that affect them.