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American Indian Law

American Indian Law: Home

Getting Started with Your Research

This guide will help you get started with your research on legal issues relating to Native Americans, Alaska Natives and other peoples indigenous to North America. 

Subject Headings

These Library of Congress Subject Headings can be used in HOLLIS to identify works on these topics:

  • Federally recognized Indian tribes
  • Indian courts -- United States
  • Indians of North America -- Politics and government
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations
  • Indians of North America -- Law and legislation
  • Indians of North America -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Self-determination, National -- United States


Examples using name of a specific tribe (tip: try using this format for other tribes as well):

  • Navajo courts
  • Navajo Indians -- Law and legislation.
  • Navajo Indians -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Navajo law
  • Navajo Nation



The United States government has entered into a wide array of treaties and agreements with various Native American Tribes and finding all of these materials can be complicated. The following sources collect primary documents and other information pertaining to these agreements.

  • United States Statutes at Large - Most treaties made between Indian tribes and the United States from 1778-1845 are here in volume 7. Other treaties appear throughout volumes 1-16. A few were never published in the Statutes at Large. Available in print and electronically.
  • Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, edited by Charles J. Kappler. U.S. G.P.O. 1904. Sometimes referred to as the "Kappler Report." Volume 2 of the "Kappler Report" compiled the treaties that were published in the Statutes at Large, numbering 366 of the 375 instruments recognized by the Department of State. (See v. 2 Treaties and v. 1-2: 57th Congress, 1st session. Senate. Document 452). This report is also available online on HeinOnline and in a database maintained by Oklahoma State University.
  • Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) Nine early treaties, from 1722 - 1805, did not appear in the Statutes at Large and thus do not appear in the Kappler Report. Seven of these were between American Indian tribes and the British, pre-dating the U.S., but recognized by the Department of State. The remaining two treaties were published in the first volume of American State Papers: Indian Affairs, but not in the Statutes at Large.


Pending Legislation

Tribal Court Clearinghouse. Pending Federal Legislation.

United States Senate. Committee on Indian Affairs. Legislative Update.

Federal Law: Statutes

Title 25 of the United States Code

Contains most, but not all, U.S. laws about Indians.

Kappler Report (requires Westlaw password)

Several volumes contain the early statutes:

  • v. 1. Laws. Compiled to Dec. 1, 1902 [HeinOnline]
  • v. 3. Laws. Compiled to Dec. 1, 1913 [HeinOnline]
  • v. 4. Laws. Compiled to March 4, 1927 [HeinOnline]
  • v. 5. Laws. Compiled from Dec. 22, 1927, to June 29, 1938 [HeinOnline]
  • v. 6. Laws. Compiled from Feb. 4, 1939 to Jan. 13, 1971, Part 1 [HeinOnline]
  • v. 7. Laws, Proclamations, [etc.]. Compiled from Feb.4, 1939 to Jan. 13, 1971, Parts II-V [HeinOnline]

Free online Kappler access: Oklahoma State University.

Tribal Court Clearinghouse: Federal Laws

Selected Laws Relating to Native Americans

Administrative Law


Most regulations relating to Indians are codified in Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Administrative Decisions

Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA)
Decisions 1970 - [IBIA Archive] [Westlaw]

Opinions of the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior Relating to Indian Affairs, 1917-1974.
[LexisNexis] [University of Oklahoma Law Center]

United States. Indian Claims Commission Decisions v.1 (1948) - v.43 (1978) [LLMC] [Oklahoma State University]


Federal Cases

LII Supreme Court Collection. Topic: Native Americans.
Selected cases.

Landmark Indian Law Cases. William S. Hein & Co., 2002. Also availabe on HeinOnline.

Federal Litigation

Cobell v. Kempthorne, No. 1:96-cv-01285 (D.D.C., filed June 10, 1996).

Cobell v. Norton was filed on June 10, 1996, in U.S. District Court as a class-action lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, and the Secretary of the Treasury, "to force the federal government to account for billions of dollars belonging to approximately 500,000 American Indians and their heirs, and held in trust since the late 19th century."

Indian Trust. Comprehensive site with case overview, chronology, court orders, and plaintiff's filings.

U.S. Dept. of Justice. Defendant's filings, court orders, some transcripts of hearings. News about Cobell.

Tribal Law

Tribal Justice Systems

Tribal Court Clearinghouse makes the VersusLaw opinions database publicly available for simple keyword searching or for browsing by topic.


Indian Law Reporter: Covers federal and state cases as well as tribal decisions.

The Harvard Law School Library has case reporters for several tribes.
To find the decisions of a specific tribal court, do an Author search on HOLLIS, using the name of the tribe.

Tribal Law Gateway

The National Indian Law Library Tribal Law Gateway

The National Indian Law Library (NILL) serves both the Native American Rights Fund and the public. The Tribal Law Gateway is a portal to the laws of federally-recognized tribes, Alaska Native villages, and pueblos in the United States. It directs researchers to the hundreds of codes and constitutions held by NILL and to other tribal law documents both in the NILL collection and elsewhere.

Tribal Codes, Constitutions, & Charters

American Indian Constitutions and Legal Materials
The Law Library of Congress has digitizes a number of tribal constitutions and other legal materials. They are all arranged by geographic region.

Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project
A project of the University of Oklahoma and the and the National Indian Law Library of the Native American Rights Fund.

Indian Reorganization Act Era Constitutions and Charters
Constitutions, corporate charters, and bylaws created in the 1930’s and 1940’s by about 370 tribes, communities, and villages.


The Harvard Law School Library has many tribal codes in print and on microform

A Bibliography of the Constitutions and Laws of the American Indians. Harvard University Press, 1947.

Indian Tribal Codes: A Microfiche Collection. [Seattle]: Marian Gould Gallagher Law Library, University of Washington School of Law, 1981.

To find the code of a specific tribe, do an Author search on HOLLIS using the name of the tribe.





Several law journals sponsor regular conferences and symposia on topics in Indian law and publish the proceedings. A few of the journals are:

Arizona Law Review
Arizona State Law Journal

Federal Lawyer
Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy
South Dakota Law Review
Tulsa Law Review
University of Detroit Mercy Law Review

The proceedings are easy to find using LegalTrac/Legal Resource Index:

[e-Resource] [Westlaw]


Detailed Subject Index to the University of Washington Indian Law Symposia & Conferences


American Indian Constitutional Reform and the Rebuilding of Native Nations, edited by Eric D. Lemont. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

American Indian Law Deskbook. 3rd ed. Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2008.

American Indian Law in a Nutshell, by William C. Canby, Jr. 4th ed. Thomson/West, 2009.

American Indian Tribal Governments, by Sharon O’Brien. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

American Indians and the Law, by N. Bruce Duthu. New York: Viking, 2008.

Captured Justice: Native Nations and Public Law 280, by Duane Champagne and Carole Goldberg. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2012.


Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law. LexisNexis, 2012. [LexisNexis]

The Cultivation of Resentment: Treaty Rights and the New Right, by Jeffrey R. Dudas. Stanford, Cal: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Enduring Legacies: Native American Treaties and Contemporary Controversies. Praeger, 2004.

Handbook of Federal Indian Law: with Reference Tables and Index, by Felix S. Cohen. [4th printing] U. S. G. P .O. 1945. [Online]

The Indian Civil Rights Act at Forty, edited by Kristen A. Carpenter, Matthew L.M. Fletcher, and Angela R. Riley. Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2012.


Indian Tribes as Sovereign Governments: A Sourcebook on Federal-Tribal History, Law, and Policy, by Charles Wilkinson & the American Indian Resources Institute. 2nd ed. Oakland, Cal.: American Indian Lawyer Training Program, 2004.

Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies, by Justin B. Richland and Sarah Deer. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 2010.

Modern American Indian Tribal Government and Politics, by Howard Meredith. Tsaile, Ariz.: Navajo Community College Press, 1993.

Native Americans: Rights, Laws, and Legislative Developments, edited by Charles P. Townsend. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2008.

Negotiated Sovereignty: Working to Improve Tribal-State Relations, by Jeffrey S. Ashley and Secody J. Hubbard. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions, by Felix S. Cohen, edited by David E. Wilkins. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Authoritative ACLU Guide to Indian and Tribal Rights, by Stephen L. Pevar. 3rd ed. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.

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