Three Sources on the Respect for and Availability of Tribal Law

Today, in the United States, there are 574 federally recognized Native American tribes.  These sovereign Nations produce thousands of statutes, regulations, and judicial opinions each year.  However, there is a lot of uncertainty and misunderstanding regarding the respect for and availability of tribal law.  I recently encountered three resources that offer some insight.

  • Matthew Fletcher, MSU professor of law and leading scholar and contributor to the field of Indian Law, recently posted a piece on SSRN entitled, Reflections on Professionalism in Tribal Jurisdictions.  “In this article, I will canvass several themes of professionalism in tribal practice, drawing my tribal law experience. Many lawyers to undervalue — even disrespect — tribal governance. This lack of professionalism has significant costs to tribal governments, tribal business, and their business partners.”
  • Recognizing that the Bluebook provides little to no guidance in accurately, consistently, and respectfully describing sources of tribal law, a group called Law Librarians for Indigenous Inclusive Citation Practices is working to make legal citation more inclusive and expansive.  For more information about their campaign and related projects, check out their website and subscribe to updates.
  • Mary Whisner from the Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington has put together an excellent YouTube video on research Tribal Court case law.  Although there is, unfortunately, no one reliable comprehensive source to find tribal case law, she discusses what is available and how to find it.

At the University of Wisconsin Law Library, we just entered year three of a three year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to improve access to tribal laws.  The Digital Publication of Tribal Laws Project brings together in partnership the UW Law Library, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, the UW Law School Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center, the National Indian Law Library, and the Open Law Library.  The project combines a publishing platform for Native Nations which addresses issues that plague other law publishing methods – such as tribal control, currentness, authentication, and preservation – with an open source library platform that combines the law of many tribes via a free, open access, federated search portal for enhanced discovery on library websites.