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 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 567 federally recognized tribes) already participate in the Access to Tribal Law Project.

Q: What is the National Indian Law Library?

A: The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is a law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law. As a part of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the library serves both NARF and the public by maintaining a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and assisting people with their Indian law-related information needs. NILL staff provides free online research assistance, Indian law news bulletins, access to tribal law documents, research guides, and access to the NILL collection of Indian law materials through its library 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 Native governments to make available from one place the laws of every Native government in the United States.

Q: Does it cost anything for a Native government to participate in the Access to Tribal Law Project?

A: No. The National Indian Law Library at the Native American Rights Fund is a free library funded by donations and grants. There is no cost for the library to maintain and provide access to your law.

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 in print or digital form.

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 Native governmnets. Once you participate, your court clerks can direct document requests to us. This feature is a popular reason why so many tribes are participating.

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 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 and tribes can look for samples of tribal law to help in drafting new or updated provisions. 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. The National Indian Law Library does not provide rights to commercial or non-profit publishers to re-publish your code or consitution.

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: 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.

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

A: Each tribe can review our work before we 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. At any time a tribe can contact the library with updates or changes to their materials. Also, library staff constantly reach out to tribes to be sure that the materials that we have are accurate and up-to-date.

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: Are there other ways to get involved with Tribal Law Access through NILL, in addition to donating copies?

A: Yes, participating in the Westlaw Tribal Law Program allows access to your law in one of the world's most prominent legal databases. Participating tribes receive free access to their tribal law in Westlaw's online service. See the related 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 the National Indian Law Library at (303) 447-8760 ext. 106 or email at triballaw@narf.org.

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

A: See instructions for how to participate or contact the National Indian Law Library at (303) 447-8760 or triballaw@narf.org.

Q: Is my tribe eligible to be listed on the Tribal Law Gateway?

A: A tribe may be included on the Tribal Law Gateway if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

1) Included on the current list of ā€œIndian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.ā€
2) Listed as a State Recognized tribe by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
3) Included in the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Tribal Directory.
4) Listed on the Petitions in Progress page of the Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA) or included on the List of Petitioners by State (as of November 12, 2013), unless the office has declined to acknowledge the tribe.