Tribal Law

Tribal Law in the United States

Tribal Law: Primary Sources

This is a selective list of materials relevant to U.S. tribal law, also referred to as Native American law and American Indian law, held at the Library and available online. With the exception of references to treatises and overviews, this entry does not cover the law concerning tribal relations with the U.S., known as Federal Indian law.

The call number range for browsing tribal law is KF 8201 to KF 8228. The range for browsing materials on the history of tribes in North America is E75-E99.

For an excellent bibliography on tribal law, see Nancy Carol Carter, “American Indian Tribal Governments, Law and Courts,” 18 Legal Ref. Serv. Quarterly 7 (2000).

Overviews and Treatises on Tribal Law and Federal Indian Law

  • American Indian Law Deskbook KF8205.A76 2004
  • American Indian Law in a Nutshell KF8205.Z0
  • American Indian Tribal Governments E98.T77 O27 1989
  • The Encyclopedia of Native American Legal Tradition KF8204.E53
  • Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies KF8205.R53 2004
  • Modern American Indian Tribal Government and Politics E98.T77M47x

Handbook of Federal Indian Law by Felix Cohen:

  • 1986 reprint of 1942 ed. KF 8205.C6x
  • 1988 reprint of 1942 ed. KF8205.C6
  • digitized version of 1942 ed. from Hein
  • 1982 edition ed. by Rennard Strickland, KF8205.C6 1982
  • 2005 edition ed. by Nell Jessup Newton et al, KF8205.C6 2005

Tribal Treaties with U.S. Federal and State Governments

Tribes were denied treaty-making power in 1871. See ch. 120, 1871, 16 Stat. 544, 566, 25 USC 71.

  • Indian Affairs Laws and Treaties (“Kappler’s Report”) KF8203. Digitized version from Hein.
    Volume 2 covers treaties 1778-1883, other volumes cover federal Indian law from 1871-1970. Includes treaties not ratified.
  • Bibliography of the English Colonial Treaties with the American Indians including a Synopsis of each Treaty KF8202 2001. Digitized version from Hein.
  • Documents of American Indian Diplomacy KF8202. Supplements Kappler’s Report, includes treaties with states and foreign nations, intertribal compacts, and unratified treaties.
  • Kappler Revisited: An Index and Bibliographic Guide to American Indian Treaties Reference KF8201.A1 B47 2003. More complete index of treaty participants, cross references to other printings of the treaty, and secondary source references.
  • Statutes At Large KF 50.U5. Volume 7 covers Treaties between the United States and the Indian Tribes 1778-1845. Treaties from 1846 to 1871 appear throughout volumes 8-16. Check individual volume indexes by tribal name and under: Indian Affairs; Indian Treaties; and Indian Department.
  • Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws, 1607-1789 KF8202. Arranged by state/region.
  • Colonial and American Indian Treaties: A Collection. About 700 agreements, coverage begins in the 1600s.
  • List of Documents Concerning the Negotiation of Ratified Indian Treaties, 1801-1869 ILS RR JX236.5 .U55x 1949

Tribal Codes and Constitutions

The following materials are available in print or online. To determine the potential existence of a more current code or constitution, consult the Tribal Law Gateway (at narf.org). It is a listing of the National Indian Law Library’s most recent copies of tribal codes and constitutions for federally-recognized tribes.

  • Cherokee Nation Code Annotated KF8228.C5A5
  • Jicarilla Apache Tribal Code KF8228.J5A5
  • Mille Lacs Band Statutes KF8228.C6A5
  • Navajo Nation Code KF8228.N3A
  • Navajo Nation Code Annotated KF8228.N3A5
  • Codes from the Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project (at thorpe.ou.edu). Codes of about 7 tribes, and links to codes available elsewhere.
  • Constitutions from the Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project (at thorpe.ou.edu). Constitutions of about 34 tribes.
  • Constitutions and Codes from the National Indian Law Library (at narf.org).Constitutions of about 60 tribes, codes of about 54 tribes.
  • Indian Tribal Codes. Codes for 99 tribes, see content list. Updates for many tribes in 1988 edition (Fiche are in pocket of Users Manual in Microforms Ref. KF8220.A3 1988). Codes for 62 tribes, see content list.
  • Constitutions and Laws of the American Indian Tribes. Reprint of series produced in the late 19th century focusing on Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee (Creek) Nation, and Osage Nation. Browse the list to find specific call numbers. The library is missing many volumes of this set.
  • Indian Reorganization Act Era Constitutions and Charters. Constitutions, corporate charters, and bylaws of about 370 tribes, communities, and villages created in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
  • Bibliography of the Constitutions and Laws of the American Indians (1947)

Tribal Case Law

The following are tribal court reports and major web-aggregations of tribal case law.

  • Indian Law Reporter KF8201.A3I5. Includes federal and state cases as well as tribal decisions.
  • Muskogee Law Reporter KF8228.C9 A5 2006x
  • Montana Crow Tribal Court Decisions 2000-2002 (available in LexisNexis)
  • Montana Fort Peck Tribal Court Decisions 1984-2004 (available in LexisNexis)
  • Montana Salish and Kootenai Tribal Court Decisions 1989- (available in LexisNexis)
  • Native American Law Digest KF8203.IN38, Volume 5—. Monthly summary of legal decisions significant to the Native American Community including tribal cases, federal funding, rules, notices, and legislation.
  • Navajo Reporter KF8228.N3A5 1969-1987
  • North Carolina Cherokee Tribal Court Decisions 2000- (available in LexisNexis)
  • Oklahoma Tribal Court Reports (available in Westlaw). Opinions from tribal courts in Oklahoma from 1979 to present including the Tribal Courts, Courts of Indian Offenses (Appellate Division), Courts of Indian Appeals, and Courts of Indian Offenses.

VersusLaw—Tribal Court Collection

VersusLaw is a subscription legal database containing tribal case law from:

Chitimacha Tribal Court (LA) 1994-
Colville Confederated Tribes Court of Appeals (WA) 1981-
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (OR) 1991-
Coquille Tribal Court (OR) 1999-
Coushatta Tribal Court (LA) 2000-
Crow Court of Appeals (MT) 1986-
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians 2000-
Fort McDowell Yavapai Tribal Court (AZ) 1999-
Fort Peck Tribal Court – Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes (MT) 1983-
Hopi Tribal Court (AZ) 1981-
Makah Tribal Court (WA) 2001-
Mashantucket Peqout (CT) 1992-
Mohegan Gaming Disputes Court 1997-
Mohegan Tribe of Indians Tribal Court 1997-
Navajo Nation Court (AZ) 1970-
Passamaquoddy Tribal Ct (ME) 1985-
Puyallup Tribal Court of Appeals (WA) 1982-
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court (NY) 1996-
Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Court (LA) 1997-
Turtle Mountain Tribal Court (ND)

Academic researchers may use VersusLaw for free. Each researcher must obtain his/her own account using this form. Note that you must provide a “.edu” email address and that you must reactivate your account annually.

Other:

  • The Tribal Court Clearinghouse Opinion Collection. The Tribal Court Clearinghouse makes the VersusLaw database publicly available. It has less sophisticated search features than VersusLaw, but it is possible to search the opinions by keyword, or browse them by topic.
  • National Tribal Justice Resource Center. This site also makes the VersusLaw database publicly available. It is not updated as frequently as the VersusLaw database.

Case-Related Resources

  • United States Tribal Courts Directory Reference KF8224.C6 S39 2002. Lists contact information, administrators, judges, jurisdiction, requirements for attorney admission, and whether or not opinions are published.
  • Tribal Courts Online from the National Tribal Justice Resource Center. Contact information for tribal courts and justice systems, provides links when available.
  • Navajo Nation Practice Book, 4th ed. KF8228.N3 A5. Rules of practice for Navajo Nation tribal courts.

Sites with Tribal Law and Related Resources

  • Federally Recognized Tribes as of 11/25/2005. This list is published annually in the Federal Register pursuant to provisions of the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, Pub. L. 103-454, 108 Stat. 4791.
  • National Tribal Justice Resource Center. Extensive links, catalog of publications, jobs in tribal justice systems, and more provided by the National American Indian Court Judges Association.
  • National Indian Law Library. For a brief explanation of primary documents in tribal law, and a description of the National Indian Law Library collection, see this article in the SWALL Bulletin. Noted above, the National Indian Law Library kindly provides the Tribal Law Gateway, a list of its most recent copies of tribal codes and constitutions for federally-recognized tribes.
  • Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project. Cooperative effort to create electronic copies of tribal legal documents. Includes codes, constitutions, Cohen’s Handbook, Indian Land titles, IRA Era Constitutions and Charters, and Solicitor’s Opinions.
  • Tribal Court Clearinghouse. Links to primary tribal law, Indian law reviews, relevant organizations and associations, as well as information on federal and state tribal relations, Indian law clinics, news, and more.
  • Tribal Governments Directory from the National Congress of American Indians. From the National Congress of American Indians, lists contact information for about 600 tribal governments in the U.S. Site also offers extensive links related to tribal law and government.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native Data and Links. U.S. Census data of many kinds, including population in the U.S., lists of tribes, reservations, economic data, languages, and more.

Written by Deanna Barmakian.

Tribal Law: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Tribal Law. This part provides references, in relation to Tribal Law, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Tribal Law by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Tribal Law and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Tribal Law or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Tribal Law and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Tribal Law. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Tribal Law should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Tribal Law when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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