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Indian & Tribal Law

Resources for researching federal Indian law and Native American tribal law.

Tribal Codes Introduction

Tribal codes are the legislative enactments of tribal councils. Depending on the tribe, they might be published in print, published on the tribe's website, published on an online commercial source—or available only in the tribe's offices.

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-211, tit. II, 124 Stat. 2261, enabled tribes to increase their criminal jurisdiction and impose longer sentences than before, but only if they "make publicly available the criminal laws (including regulations and interpretive documents), rules of evidence, and rules of criminal procedure . . . of the tribal government" (§ 234(c)(4), codified at 25 U.S.C. §1302(c)(4)). Thus, at least the criminal sections of tribal codes are likely to become more readily available.

National Indian Law Library

The National Indian Law Library has the best collection of tribal codes anywhere, in print and online. Checking there is often a good way to see whether a code has been published.

NILL offers different ways to find tribal codes.

1. Search the catalog.

Advanced search lets you select Type = codes

If you don't include anything else, then result is all the codes in the library's collection (including electronic sources).

screen shot NILL catalog

2. Use NILL's Tribal Law Gateway.

Select a tribe from the list to find links to available materials. For example, the entry for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation links to the tribal code at the tribe's website, the table contents on the NILL website, and more. (The Tribal Law Gateway also provides access to tribal constitutions, and tribal court opinions.)

Tribal Codes of Washington Tribes

Map of Washington Tribes

Map of Washington tribes from www.washingtontribes.org, a site sponsored by the Washington Indian Gaming Association. (Used with permission.)

Published Codes

Some tribes—especially larger ones—publish their codes. To find them in the law library's collection, search the catalog for the tribe's name.  Examples:

Montana Tribes

Lexis Advance also has codes for Montana tribes.

One path: when browsing sources, select jurisdiction, then select Tribal (between Texas and United States in alphabetical list).

Microfiche Sets

Knowing how limited access was to tribal codes, Prof. Ralph Johnson collected as many as he could in the 1980s, and the Gallagher Law Library published them in two microfiche sets.

  • Ralph W. Johnson, ed., Indian Tribal Codes: A Microfiche Collection of Indian Tribal Law Codes (1988). KF8220.I57J6 1988 at Reference Area. Includes codes from 61 tribes.
  • Ralph W. Johnson, ed., Indian Tribal Codes: A Microfiche Collection of Indian Tribal Law Codes (1981). KF8220.I57J6 at Reference Area. Includes codes from 59 tribes.

The originals of the codes in the microfiche sets are at the National Indian Law Library.