Access to Tribal Law Project  |  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why is it important for my tribe to participate?

A: There are many reasons why we believe tribes should participate in the Access to Tribal Law Project. However, the most important reason, which ninety-nine percent of Indian Law practitioners we recently surveyed agreed with, is that access to tribal legal materials promotes tribal sovereignty.

Q: How many tribes have signed up already?

A: Over 300 tribes (more than half of the 566 federally recognized tribes) already participate in the Access to Tribal Law Project (ATLP), including over 90 tribes providing access to digital versions of their codes and constitutions on our website. Every day more tribes sign on to participate and to add their codes to the digital collection. See which tribes have already signed on.

Q: What is the National Indian Law Library?

A: The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is a public law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law and a part of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). It serves both NARF and the public, by developing and making accessible a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and assisting people with their Indian law-related information needs. The NILL professional staff provides free online research assistance, Indian law news bulletins, access to tribal law documents, research guides, and the access to the NILL collection of Indian law materials through the NILL online catalog.

Q: What exactly is the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: The mission of the Access to Tribal Law Project (ATLP) is to provide access to unique and valuable tribal law information to the public,thus enhancing the power of tribal courts and strengthening tribal sovereignty. The ATLP is a partnership between the National Indian Law Library and tribes to collect and maintain current copies of the laws of every tribal government in the United States and keep them in one place – our library here in Boulder and, with permission, on our web site.

Q: Does it cost anything for our tribal nation to participate in the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: No. It never costs anything to participate. The National Indian Law Library at the Native American Rights Fund is a free public library funded by individual donors and grants.

Q: Will it involve a lot of time and effort on our part to get our code in the collection?

A: Not at all. All we need is for you to send us a copy of your code either in print or digital form. To feature your tribe's code and constitution in our digital collection, all you have to do is give the National Indian Law Library permission to put your materials online.

Q: We get requests from the public all the time for copies of our code. How is the ATLP different?

Through the Access to Tribal Law Project, NILL can service these requests so that you don't have to. We have worked closely with tribes for over four decades and we know that most tribes dedicate much time and resources to tracking down code provisions for the public, making copies, and sending them out, sometimes at great expense to the tribe. The Access to Tribal Law Project is designed to lessen the burden on tribes caused by research requests. Once you sign up, your court clerks can direct document requests to us (or to your tribe's page on our online Tribal Law Index, if you sign up for digital participation). This feature is a popular reason why so many tribes have already signed on to the project.

Q: How will other tribal leaders and attorneys use our tribe's code and constitution?

A: Providing access to your laws enables other tribal leaders and their attorneys to review sample provisions on a wide variety of topics. This facilitates the development of tribal law without the need to rely only on state and federal law. In this way, tribes function as a community, sharing laws and ideas that can help strengthen sovereignty and reflect traditional values. The National Indian Law Library gets many requests from tribal leaders and their attorneys to view samples of laws from other tribes, so they can write culturally appropriate laws for their own tribes. Similarly, tribal court judges can look at other tribes' laws for guidance when their own tribe's law is silent, rather than looking to state or federal law. By participating in the ATLP, you help other tribal governments work better for their people.

Q: How will other people use our tribe's code and constitution?

A: Members of tribes and people living in Indian country will have easy access to the law that is applicable to them. In addition, experience tells us that access pushes back against the misconceptions of outsiders about the laws of a tribe. Greater access to tribal legal materials reinforces tribes' status as independent and self-governing entities. Since tribal members and others wishing to do business on your reservation will be able to see the laws, joining the Access to Tribal Law Project can combat regulatory and jurisdictional uncertainty and promote economic development. Also, since state and federal judges will be able to see the tribal laws governing your tribe, access will limit challenges to tribal jurisdiction by other governments. Access makes it easier for the federal government and federal judges to know and apply tribal law.

Q: How will providing access to our laws affect our tribal courts?

A: Parties in tribal court will be on the same page when discussing legal issues or problems, clearing any confusion about court procedure and the law of the land, saving time and resources spent by the tribe. Moreover, submitting copies of tribal codes and constitutions to NILL preserves tribal information, policy, and history. The history of the laws of your people will be preserved forever for future generations here, at our library.

Q: Why should our tribe participate digitally in the online collection?

A: Once you give us permission to post your code on a special page built specifically for your tribe on our online Tribal Law Gateway, your members and the public will be one click away from the sovereign laws of your tribe or nation. Because digitized tribal codes and constitutions are fully searchable, digitization makes finding relevant provisions in tribal codes and constitutions faster and easier. Having your materials online also allows for faster and more convenient access to sections of tribal law, since anyone looking for a specific legal provision can access it at the click of a button instead of requiring a NILL staff person to process the request and deliver the information.

Q: Is digitization and online participation free as well?

A: Yes. Participation in the Access to Tribal Law Project at any level is completely free.

Q: Does the tribe have control over what laws are included in the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: Your tribe has absolute control, and no one else can change or modify the material. We publish only those laws you wish us to make available to the public and can direct people to contact your government for select content if desired. In other words, tribes can always redact sensitive matter and/or omit specific content from publication. We always respect the wishes of tribes regarding access to information. If the tribe decides to come back later and reserve a section, we will immediately remove the section from our collection. In addition, before posting a tribe's code on our website, we allow the tribe to preview what the code will look like on our site before uploading it to the web.

Q: How can we be sure what NILL keeps in its collection will be the current version of our code?

A: Once we receive tribal legal materials from a tribe, we process and add them to the collection (including online if the tribe has given us permission) immediately. In addition to the updates we receive periodically from tribes, we have in place a rotating system of asking each tribe for updates once every six months. We are careful to mark dates on our catalog and Tribal Law Gateway, letting tribes and the public know when we have received and added materials from tribes and when we have confirmed that our materials are current.

Q: How can we be sure what NILL keeps in its collection will be accurate?

A: Once again, each tribe can review our work before we upload it or add it to the collection. We have more than forty years of great relationships with tribes and a 40+ year reputation for the quality of our service and our work. In addition, the library keeps abreast of and implements new authentication methods as they become established.

Q: Our tribe has an incomplete code and our tribal attorneys have several code sections they are working on or have completed but have not yet passed them through the Tribal Council. Our tribe is still working on completing a full code. Would we need to wait until our code is in better shape before signing up?

A: No, you can send us anything, even a single resolution to add to our collection, if you wish. We do not need organized, sequentially numbered, or labeled code sections, all we need is for you to send us what you have.

Q: Does my tribe have a financial incentive to withhold our code from the ATLP collection, or to try and publish it on our own?

A: While it is true that a few tribes have made agreements with publishing companies to publish their laws, we believe that providing free access to tribal law through our collection provides greater exposure for your code and future sales. We can provide a prominent link or other information relating to purchasing options on our web site and in our library catalog if desired. The National Indian Law Library also believes in equal access to the law, regardless of the ability to pay for access.

Q: My tribe does not have enough time or staffing to participate.

A: We have found that tribes actually save time and lessen the burden on their staff by participating in the ATLP. Once the modest, initial effort it takes to send us the code (and updates as they come along) is completed, a tribe can then refer costly (in terms of both time and money) information requests to us.

Q: Are there other ways to get involved with Tribal Law Access through NILL, in addition to donating copies and allowing tribal legal materials to be put online?

A: Yes, participating in the Westlaw Tribal Law Program allows access to your law in one of the world’s most prominent legal databases. More than 25 tribes have joined as of January 2012. Participating tribes receive free access to their tribal law in Westlaw’s fee-based service. See the press release for more information.

Q: What if I have other concerns or questions about the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: We are here to provide you with any and all information about the project that you need. Do not hesitate to call David Selden at (303) 447-8760 ext. 106 or email him at dselden@narf.org.

Q: How do I sign up my tribe for the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: Click Here and join online today. Or call David Selden at (303) 447-8760 ext. 106 to join over the phone.

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