Develop Indian Law and educate the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues

NARF has played a key role in developing a body of federal law pertaining to tribal sovereignty, tribal land and natural resources, human rights, and the accountability of governments to Native people. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of treaties, acts of Congress, court decisions, Executive Orders, regulations, and administrative rulings that acknowledge the rights of American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes and peoples.  A few states today also have bodies of state law that are specific to the legal rights and roles of tribes.

While much of Indian law is well-known to practicing attorneys, law professors, and tribe leaders, far less is known by the general public, non-tribe governments, and businesses that interact with Native peoples. Over the years, NARF has educated legislators, judges, attorneys, and officials about Indian law and tribes’ rights through consultations and training. Since 1972, NARF’s National Indian Law Library, which is open to the public, has been recognized for its specialized research and unique collection of Indian law materials. Today, NARF distributes tremendous amounts of Indian law information and materials through print, electronic, and social media.

  • Indigenous Peacemaking Initiative

    Peacemaking is a community-directed process to develop consensus on a conflict resolution plan that addresses the concerns of all interested parties. Indigenous peacemaking usually includes traditional rituals such as the group circle where the parties to a conflict as well as their supporters, elders, and interested community members speak from their hearts and agree on necessary steps for healing.

    The mission of NARF’s Indigenous Peacemaking Initiative (IPI) is to promote and support Native peoples in restoring sustainable peacemaking practices in their communities. The IPI also focuses on ways to increase federal support for indigenous peacemaking systems. The IPI Advisory Committee consists of traditional peacemaking experts and practitioners.

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  • Development of Federal Indian Law

    NARF has played a key role in developing a substantial body of federal law pertaining to the recognition of tribal sovereignty and other legal rights of tribes regarding their land and resources as well as their cultures and religions. Federal Indian law has its roots in international law, property law, the U.S. Constitution, and the hundreds of treaties and agreements between the United States and tribes. The United States now has over two centuries of court decisions, statutes, regulations, Executive Orders and administrative rulings that pertain to the legal rights of American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes and peoples.

    When NARF was founded in 1970, the federal government was embarking on a new federal policy that re-recognized and affirmatively supported tribal self-government. NARF has helped maintain and further that policy through precedent-setting court cases, legislation, and administrative matters.

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  • National Indian Law Library

    In 1972, NARF founded the National Indian Law Library (NILL) to serve the research needs of NARF attorneys. But NILL’s resources are also available to the public. The library houses a unique and valuable collection of federal Indian and tribal law materials and provides specialized legal research assistance. It also provides online bulletins to keep advocates aware of the latest legal developments and most recent news in Indian law.

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    • Professional Training

      NARF has a vested interest in training practitioners of federal Indian law and attorneys who work for or with tribes. For decades, NARF has operated a summer law clerk program for law students who have completed their second year of law school. This highly competitive program places students with each of NARF’s three offices. NARF’s offices also have law clerks, law student interns, and post-law school graduate fellows throughout the year. Through its programs, NARF has helped train hundreds of individuals who today are attorneys worldwide.

      In addition to working with students and recent graduates, NARF receives federal funding to provide trainings and technical assistance to Indian Legal Services programs in their representation of tribes and Indian individuals. Also, NARF attorneys often are asked to speak at conferences and to provide legal training to lawyers, judges, and tribe leaders about federal Indian law and NARF’s work. As long as it does not interfere with case and client needs, NARF encourages its attorneys and other staff to participate in such conferences and trainings and provide accurate and current information about tribal legal rights.

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      • NARF Publications

        In addition to its Annual Report, NARF publishes a Legal Review twice a year that provides updates on NARF’s cases, staff, and board members, as well as information on timely Indian law topics.

        While most of NARF’s work is devoted to representing clients, NARF attorneys occasionally produce and publish in various legal publications. NARF has also partnered to publish books on aspects of Indian law, such as Landmark Indian Law Cases. Finally, NARF sometimes receives grant funding that allows the compilation and publication of laws and cases related to a specific area of law affecting Native Americans. These publications include, A Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act; the Tribalizing Indian Education Series, and, A Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Most current publications are available to purchase or download from the NARF website.

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      • Tribal Supreme Court Project

        Part of the Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative started by NARF and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 2001, the Tribal Supreme Court Project (TSCP) was created specifically in response to a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases that negatively affected tribal sovereignty. The TSCP monitors and helps coordinate tribal cases that are likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and assists tribes, their attorneys, and their advocates and supporters with expertise regarding case presentation, strategy, and Supreme Court practice. The TSCP is dedicated to providing better and more valuable tools to enhance the overall quality of tribal advocacy before the Supreme Court.  The TSCP is staffed by NARF and NCAI attorneys.

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