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What Is Native Peoples Law?

Due to tribal sovereignty, indigenous people in the United States have many separate laws from traditional government laws. For example, Native American tribes often have treaties with state and federal governments, allowing them to govern their own people.

According to the Government Accountability Office, there are 574 distinct native tribes in the United States. According to the government's 2022-2027 Strategic Plan, Congress and many federal agencies strive to ensure the “well-being and financial security of Americans." This commitment extends to all federally recognized tribes throughout the nation.

According to the GAO, tribal nations can establish their own governments. They also have the right to determine citizenship for their tribes. As part of the tribal agreements, tribal governments have the power to make and enforce their tribal laws in tribal court. Tribal leaders also have the right to preserve their cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identity.

Here, we will briefly explain when you need an attorney to help protect native peoples laws. We will also discuss why it is essential that you hire a native peoples attorney to help protect your rights.

Definition of Native Peoples Law

Native Peoples Law governs all Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives living in the United States. Few law schools cover this area of law. Unless a law student decides to specialize in this area of study, they may not understand the complex legal issues Native American communities face.

Multiple legal structures govern Native Americans. First, each tribe may create and enforce its tribal law. The federal government issued several statutes and treaties that affect the services to people on Native American reservations. Some states may also impose some restrictions on Native Americans.

Finding an Attorney Familiar with Native Peoples Law

The American Bar Association doesn't discuss native peoples law often. It can be challenging to find advocacy for indigenous people. This doesn't mean that there aren't non-Indian attorneys who advocate on behalf of Native Americans and other tribal communities. It just means that you must be careful when seeking legal advice.

You can always contact the state bar for a referral for an attorney specializing in federal Indian law and policy. You may also seek out help from your local Legal Aid office. FindLaw also offers various legal resources to help you find qualified legal assistance.

Practice Area Notes

Lawyers who are experts in native peoples law handle various issues. Many work directly for the tribes or the state where the reservation is located. For example, there are many Native Americans living in places like Oklahoma. It may be easier to find legal help for native peoples issues there

Attorneys who specialize in this area of law help Native Americans find work. They also help clients set up businesses, deal with people living on the reservation, or help the state enforce laws that apply to Native Americans.

Some lawyers work within the tribes and help tribal members resolve internal disputes or access government services. Unfortunately, Indian reservations are often in remote areas and suffer from rampant poverty. It can be difficult for many Native Americans to find low-cost legal assistance. Many also have trouble getting essential legal services.

Contact a Native Peoples Law Attorney

If you need help resolving a tribal issue or feel someone has violated your tribal rights, contact a native peoples' lawyer. They can review your case and tell you how best to proceed.

Related Practice Areas

  • International law: Tribes are "sovereign governments" that live within the United States. As such, treaties contain the federal laws that govern Native Americans.
  • Municipal law: Many tribes operate very similarly to cities on U.S. soil and must create ordinances for taxes, business licenses, police, and other essentials.
  • Business law: Many Native Americans wish to create businesses and market to people outside the reservation and must set up their businesses according to applicable state and federal laws.
  • Land use law: The federal government sets aside land specifically for use by Native Americans.
  • Estate planning: Native Americans are subject to different estate laws than other American citizens.

Findlaw Native Peoples Law Resources

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