Researching Native American Law

Native American law covers the body of law concerning American Indian tribes and their interactions with federal and state authorities, as well as among themselves. Historically, Native American law has been chiefly influenced and shaped by federal Indian policy. Tribes are generally considered self-governing, independent entities. However, this independence is subject to the power of Congress to regulate the status of tribes.

A distinction worth noting is the fact that tribal law deals specifically with the internal law which governs the affairs of each tribe and its members. Sources of tribal law include oral tradition, tribal constitutions and codes, as well as codes borrowed from other sources.

We do have a Legal Research Subject Guide available on the topic of Tribal Law. I will admit that it does need some updating so you might want to search through our catalog as well. The following search terms are useful when using the library catalog, databases and other online sources: American Indian law, federal Indian law, Indian law, Native American law, tribal law.

For research out of the law library, I have found the Native American Rights Fund’s National Indian Law Library to be a wonderful resource. From their website:

The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is a public law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law. Our mission is to develop and make accessible a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and other information relating to Native Americans. NILL places special emphasis on fulfilling the information needs of Indian law advocates and others working on behalf of Native Americans.

They have a listing of resources by topic which I have found to be very useful.

Just browsing this database gives you an incredible perspective on the issues that face Native Americans.

I encourage you to take a look at this site and if you have any questions with regards to researching Native American Law, feel free to contact me!

W. Blake Wilson
Instructional Librarian