Tribal Courts Council

Tribal Courts Council
Enhancing the Fairness and Function of 
Native American Tribal Courts

The Tribal Courts Council is a free-standing committee of the Judicial Division. It was formed to respond to the need for educating and advising ABA members and the general public about issues affecting Indian Country and the far-reaching but little-known effect of those issues on all areas of the legal profession. The Tribal Courts Council was also created as a means of advancing the ABA goal of promoting diversity in the legal profession. Finally, the Tribal Courts Council was formed in response to the potential for a large membership base of diverse peoples involved in tribal justice, many programmatic opportunities, the desire among tribes for affiliation with the ABA and the Judicial Division, and interest in tribal issues on the part of other members of ABA entities.

The Tribal Courts Council is dedicated to engaging in programs and projects that enhance the effectiveness of those who appear, work, and practice before and within tribal courts and their governing bodies. In the process, the Council contributes to efforts to improve the fairness and functioning of Native American tribal courts and to correct misperceptions about tribal courts and governments. It strives to:

  • Build public and legal-profession awareness of, and respect for, tribal courts;
  • Encourage lawyers to become familiar with laws relating to Native Americans and to consider practicing in Indian Country;
  • Press Congress to nominate more Native American federal judges and pass legislation of importance to Native American tribes and individuals; and
  • Encourage Native American law students to pursue judicial clerkships and internships.

The Tribal Courts Council has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of important programs, including those relating to the Violence Against Women Act and other programs relating to criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country. The Council presented “Spotlight on the Violence Against Women Act of 2013: A Practical Guide to the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Pilot Projects and What to Expect After March 2015” at the ABA’s 2015 Midyear meeting in Houston, TX.

Judge Lisa Atkinson currently chairs the Tribal Courts Council and is Chair-Elect of the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges.

Tribal Court News and Updates

VAWA Criminal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians: NCAI Launches Technical Assistance Website

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 included historic provisions that reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians in certain domestic violence cases. When this provision takes effect nationwide on March 7, 2015, Indian tribes will be able to prosecute non-Indians who abuse Indian women on tribal lands for the first time since the Oliphant v. Suquamish decision.  Importantly, there  are a number of due process requirements that must first be met. NCAI has developed a website to assist tribes as they implement the new law:

At the August 2014 ABA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates voted to allow individuals in good standing of a tribal court of any federally recognized tribe to be full members of the ABA.  To join the ABA and the Judicial Division, please call (800) 285-2221 or visit the ABA Membership homepage.  To join the Tribal Courts Council please contact Amanda Banninga at (312) 988-5450 with your member ID.

Sarah Deere Among 21 Diverse MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Winners

  • Tribal Courts News

ABA Supports Trial Justice Issues

Statement of ABA Present Carolyn Lamm Regarding the Tribal Law and Order Act
Washington, D.C., Aug. 3, 2010 - Sexual assault and domestic abuse have no place in any American Community, so the high levels of both in Indian tribal territories must be lowered using every available tool.  The signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act, with its numerous provisions to fight these and other violent crimes, is a critical, positive step forward.

This law authorizes important new funding for tribal justice systems; lowers barriers to protecting the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women; gives tribal officials new methods for crime fighting; and improves coordination while also increasing accountability.  There are numerous ways the law will work against gender-based violence, including the promise of better funding, community-based projects and efforts that better hold the perpetrators accountable.  The representatives and senators who worked across party lines to make this bill become law deserve our praise and our thanks.  We urge Congress to now act to appropriate funds to match the authorization.

The ABA hails signing of this measure into law and is pleased to have worked vigorously for provision of these important crime-prevention steps. 

ABA Resolutions
The American Bar Association (ABA) enacted a resolution in support of adequate, stable, and long term funding for Tribal Justice Systems funding on August 12, 2008. The following is the text of the resolution: "RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges Congress to support quality and accessible justice by ensuring adequate, stable, long-term funding for tribal justice systems." 
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