NAS 468. Tribal Justice System

Examines the creation and maintenance of the legal relationships between Indigenous nations and their citizens. Focusing on tribal courts, policing, informal and formal mechanisms of conflict resolution and social control. [DCG-d.]

Tribal justice systems are among the least understood legal structures in the United States. Used in tribal communities since time immemorial their use is now entering the Anglo-American legal system throughout the U.S. But what do we know about tribal justice systems? How do they work? Is there a one size fits all model or are they adaptive to the communities in which they are employed? Are they viable alternatives to the current adversarial system employed in U.S. courts?

In this senior level seminar course we will delve into the traditional and contemporary legal systems of tribal nations, the ways in which they have historically and contemporarily been structured to regulate those within their jurisdiction, and resolving disputes in order to explore the relevance of tribal justice systems in modern tribal and non-tribal societies. Although the subject is of crucial importance to modern American Indian tribes and those who interact with them, this course deals with broader themes of what law is and how it interacts with community self-determination, colonialism, and cultural change. Emphasis will be on the diversity of tribal legal structures, comparisons with the Anglo-American legal system, changes in tribal systems during the period of contact with non-Indians, and the relationship between tribes' legal systems and other aspects of their cultures, such as religion and social structure.


Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies, Justin R. Richland and Sarah Deer; Rowman & Littlefield (2016).

Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways, Wanda D. McCaslin, ed.: Living Justice Press (2005).