Last updated on October 22nd, 2021 at 05:45 pm

Native American reservations in the United States have their own laws and regulations which go beyond those of the federal government. Tribes have an inherent right to govern themselves, and this is reflected when legal issues arise.

Tribal Law in the United States

Tribal law includes the laws, codes, ordinances, resolutions, and court decisions enacted by Native American tribal governments. As sovereigns, Tribes can and do enact laws that relate to many of the same subjects as other sovereigns, including crimes, civil law, and civil procedure.

Tribes possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government. Federally recognized Tribes have a government-to-government relationship with the United States with all the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation.

In the United States, Tribes make and enforce their own laws, levy taxes, establish and determine membership, prescribe rules of inheritance, license and regulate activities in their jurisdiction, establish zones, and more.

There are relatively few limitations on the inherent tribal powers of self-government. In general, the same limitations that apply to states, such as the restrictions on making war and printing currency, apply to U.S. Tribes.

What Falls Under the Jurisdiction of Tribal Courts?

Tribal courts have civil jurisdiction over both Native Americans and non-Native Americans who live or do business on reservations. They also have criminal jurisdiction over violations of tribal laws committed by tribal members who live or do business on reservations.

In addition to dealing with these concerns, tribal courts sanction adoptions, marriages, and divorces, determine paternity, appoint guardians, determine competency, make presumptions of death, award child support from Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, and adjudicate claims involving trust assets.

Should I Talk to a Tribal Lawyer?

If you need advice on a tribal law matter, you can talk to a qualified lawyer with experience in tribal law. Lawyers can offer strategic advice, use sophisticated technical skills to solve legal problems, help you reduce the risk of future legal issues, and represent you in court if needed.

Many lawyers provide free consultations to determine whether or not they can help with your case. However, you should always check before scheduling an appointment.

Finding a Qualified Attorney for Your Tribal Law Case

A great way to find a lawyer is to talk to people in your community who have faced similar legal problems. Some of them may have worked with a particular lawyer they can recommend. If you get a personal referral, be sure to ask what the person thought about their lawyer.

If you can’t get a good personal referral, you can also look online through lawyer referral services, online lawyer directories like, or your local bar association.

After narrowing down a few potential lawyers, it’s a good idea to interview them to see who will be the best fit. Ask each lawyer about their background, experience, communication style, and how much time they have available to take on your case.

Be sure to choose a lawyer who is experienced in legal matters like yours. Your friend’s adoption attorney may not be able to help with a tax-related case.

If you are looking for a tribal lawyer in the Western Washington area, consider contacting an experienced tribal law attorney through the Anderson Hunter Law Firm. Whether you are an individual who needs representation or a tribal or local government seeking advice, we are here to meet your needs.

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