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BA Law - Certificate in Tribal Courts and Justice Administration

Resources for BA students in the Certificate in Tribal Courts and Justice Administration program

Tribal Law Resourses - Getting started

Tribal law is differentiated from federal and state law. Federal Indian law covers the relationships between federal, state, and tribal governments. Tribal law is the Indian tribes and nations exercise of their self-governance powers by development of the laws which apply within their territories and to their own members and residents on their sovereign lands.

There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes and native villages in the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Alaska. Although there still is no formally reestablished government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Native Hawaiian community, there is an administrative process in place. In addition, there are indigenous tribes that are state recognized through a formal recognition process.  There are others still that are not recognized by either federal or state governments. 

When starting your research on tribal law, it may be helpful to start with secondary sources. There are selected resources in this guide. The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is one of those great sources. Researching American Indian Tribal Law by David E. Selden is a short article published in The Colorado Lawyer in 2014 and provides basic tips for research. Selden was the law librarian of National Indian Law Library and, although the article focuses on their collection, it may help guide your search in our library. The NILL's website also links to selected Indian Law Research Guides.  Another source of primary tribal law is the Tribal Court Clearinghouse which provides access to a vast number of tribe's own laws.

When researching a tribe's legal system, you may want to start with information about the tribe and the types of primary sources you will need for your research. The National Indian Law Library's Tribal Law Gateway is an index by tribe listing sources for tribal constitutions, codes, and court opinions. The library also provides these helpful "How To Find" tips for locating the types of sources you may need:

Another useful resource is the Native Nations Institute Indigenous Governance Database. The database provides free access to 1500 video, audio, and text resources. The database is searchable by native nation, format, and search terms. An account is required to access the content, but it is free.

Free databases

The following resources are available for free.  These resources are supported by both government and private organizations, and depend on funding as well as cooperation from the various tribes in making the information available.

  • Tribal Court Clearinghouse provides access to a number of tribal courts and tribal court opinions.  The Tribal Court Clearinghouse also provides access to some tribe's codes and statutes.Some of these databases are searchable as opposed to being a listing or index of resources.
  • National Indian Law Library provides access to tribal laws, tribal court opinions, and many other resources via their Tribal Law Gateway.
  • Indigenous Law Portal from the Library of Congress provides access to materials as well as links to tribal websites and primary source materials found on the web. Tribal information includes constitutions and codes and can be browsed by region, state, and alphabetically.
  • Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project As a cooperative effort among the University of Oklahoma Law Center, the National Indian Law Library, and Native American tribes, this project provides access to tribal constitutions, tribal codes, and other tribal legal documents.
  • Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals provides an appellate court forum for tribes located in New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado, and west Texas. They publish their opinions and make them available on this site.
  • Northwest Intertribal Court System  The Northwest Intertribal Court System provides an appellate court forum and appellate court opinions for Indian nations based in the Puget Sound region of the Pacific Northwest. They publish their opinions and make them available on this site.
  • Harvard Law School's Caselaw Access Project has made volumes 1-13 (1997-2017) of West's American Tribal Law Reporter available online.  Case metadata, such as the case name, citation, court, date, etc., is freely and openly accessible without limitation. Full case text can be freely viewed or downloaded but you must register for an account to do so, and currently you may view or download no more than 500 cases per day.
  • The UA Law Library's Indigenous Peoples Law & Policy IPLP LibGuide provides an overview of resources available to start research in American Indian Law. This guide focuses on researching American Indian tribal law and federal Indian law.. This guide provides information and links to casebooks and study aides, tribal law resources (some of which are duplicated in this guide), treaties, federal Indian law resources (including books, legislative resources, case law, and administrative law).
  • Another useful research tool to help locate decisions is Sources of Tribal Court DecisionsThis research guide by Mary Whisner at University of Washington School of Law includes a helpful chart listing by tribe some of the sources for decisions.  The University of Washington's Law Library also has a Research Guide for finding tribal court decisions.

Subscription Databases

The following resources require either a subscription or a login code.  Generally these resources will only be available through the Law Library to law students, not to undergraduate students.  However, individual professors may provide or request limited access to these resources for select classes or projects.

The commercial databases - Lexis Advance, Westlaw Edge, and VersusLaw - all cover tribes unevenly. A database might have just a few cases from a given tribal court or it might have dozens of cases from multiple tribes each year. The Indian Law Reporter published only selected cases, usually just a handful a year. Coverage also varies over time, even within one database system.