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Comparative Indigenous Law

Tribal Laws 

There are over 550 Native American tribes. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 encouraged tribes to enact their own laws. Tribal laws consist of the codes and constitutions of each tribe, as well as ordinances, resolutions, and regulations.

As sovereigns, Tribes enact laws on similar subjects as other sovereigns, such as criminal law, civil law and civil procedure. Tribes also enact unique laws, such as laws on tribal membership - each tribe prescribes its own rules for membership, usually in its constitution. Tribal membership establishes not only rights and liabilities of individuals, but also relationships between members -  for example, the law of a marriage between two tribal members may be under the jurisdiction of tribal law rather than the state.

Finding Tribal Laws 

Not all laws are written or published. Some tribes have comprehensive coverage in sophisticated databases, but by no means all. Some tribal courts have their written laws and court procedures online, while other tribal websites are often not updated.

Finding Tribal Cases 

Tribes have always had, and continue to retain the sovereign authority to establish and operate their own Tribal justice systems. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 encouraged tribes to enact their own laws and establish their own modern tribal courts to resolve conflict and controversy. Modern Tribal courts are under Tribal control, and are directly oriented to the needs of Tribal members. Some tribes have developed a hybrid or blended judicial system, incorporating the dispute resolution elements of Indigenous or Code of Federal Regulations courts, and a more modern focus to ensure due process.

There are at least 400 tribal courts. The court systems operating in Indian country vary by tribe. The Indian country judicial system revolves around a core of four legal institutions—Court of Indian Offenses (CFR courts), Tribal courts of appeal, Tribal courts of general jurisdiction, and Indigenous forums. 

Tribal Criminal Justice​


For detailed information on tribal criminal law and justice, see:


First Nations Authors

Books on Tribal Law 

First Nations Authors