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Tribal State Relations

This page provides links to information and resources addressing efforts to improve tribal - state relations.

The National Congress of American Indian website has many examples of cooperative agreements between tribal governments and state governments, as well as other documents and articles related to Tribal-State Relations.

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute has partnered with the California Administrative Office of the Courts to conduct the Native American Communities Justice Project (NACJP), an investigation into the issue of family violence in California Native Communities.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians, is involved in a State-Tribal Relations Project that will address several specific, substantive issues between states and tribes. Both organizations believe in the importance of educating states and tribes on the processes that promote cooperation in problem-solving. This joint project hopes to promote state-tribal interaction as a necessity of state policymaking and to show how cooperation and collaboration can achieve the results that advance mutual objectives. The project also maintains a Listing of State Committees and Commissions on Indian Affairs and a Listing of State-Tribal Relations Publications.

For more information about the NCSL-NCAI State-Tribal Relations Project, contact:
Andrea Wilkins
National Conference of State Legislatures
(303) 364-7700
andrea.wilkins@ncsl.org

E. Sequoyah Simermeyer
National Congress of American Indians
(202) 466-7767
ssimermeyer@ncai.org

Building on Common Ground: A National Agenda to Reduce Jurisdictional Disputes Between Tribal, State, and Federal Courts is the formal report and recommendations from a national leadership conference held in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 1993 in which tribal, state, and federal leaders from throughout the United States met to develop a national agenda for improvement of working relationships between tribal, state, and federal judicial systems.

In August 2002, the Tribal Relations Committee of the Conference of Chief Justices adopted a resolution entitled Resolution 27: To Continue the Improved Operating Relations Among Tribal, State, and Federal Judicial Systems, which was intended to endorse continued efforts to Build on Common Ground, including the endorsement of the following three principles:

  • First, tribal state, and federal courts should continue cooperative efforts to enhance relations and resolve jurisdictional issues.
  • Second, Congress should provide resources to tribal courts consistent with their current and increasing responsibilities.
  • Third, tribal, state, and federal authorities should take steps to include cross-recognition of judgments, final orders, laws, and public acts of the three jurisdictions.

In August 2002, the Tribal Relations Committee of the Conference of Chief Justices adopted a resolution entitled Resolution 27: To Continue the Improved Operating Relations Among Tribal, State, and Federal Judicial Systems. This resolution was intended to endorse continued efforts to Build on Common Ground, including the endorsement of the following three principles:

  • First, tribal state, and federal courts should continue cooperative efforts to enhance relations and resolve jurisdictional issues.
  • Second, Congress should provide resources to tribal courts consistent with their current and increasing responsibilities.
  • Third, tribal, state, and federal authorities should take steps to include cross-recognition of judgments, final orders, laws, and public acts of the three jurisdictions.

Walking on Common Ground (WalkingOnCommonGround.org) is the most recent effort - sponsored by the Conference of Chief Justices and many other state, tribal, and federal organizations - to build upon the earlier Building on Common Ground effort. The Walking on Common Ground mission statement is: Tribal, federal, and state justice communities join together in the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, to promote and sustain collaboration, education, and sharing of resources for the benefit of all people. Some important documents found on this site are:

  • Revised Tribal-State Collaboration Efforts Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. (U.S. Department of Justice, July 2003)
  • Teague Protocol Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. purpose is to effectively and efficiently allocate judicial resources by providing a legal mechanism which clearly outlines the path a legal dispute will follow when both a tribal court and a circuit have jurisdiction over a matter. This protocol does not apply to any case in which controlling law commits exclusive jurisdiction to either the tribal court or the circuit court.
  • 1993 Building on Common Ground Document Adobe Acrobat Reader is Required to View this File. (Web Version) - A Leadership Conference to Develop A National Agenda to Reduce Jurisdictional Disputes Between Tribal, State, and Federal Courts.

The Great Lakes Indian Law Center at the University of Wisconsin School of Law has posted a paper focusing the PL 280 and tribal courts in Wisconsin. “A Perspective on the ‘schizophrenic’ approach to our legal relationship with Wisconsin’s Indian Nations and a modest proposal to give clarity to the federal Public Law 83-280 in Wisconsin(Microsoft Word Document) is a response to proposed Wisconsin Rule of Court.

The Washington State Division of Child Support (DCS) and the State Tribal Relations Unit (STRU) seek to negotiate Intergovernmental Agreements, or to identify existing tribal court processes, to establish and enforce child support obligations on Indian reservations. Some existing agreements are:

Idaho Tribal Court Benchbook was created in January 1997 by the Idaho State/Tribal Court Forum in order to provide judges, lawyers, and litigants with information and a short description of tribal judicial organizations and tribal judicial relationships with other jurisdictions, including citations to additional authorities on these and other related topics.

Publications

  • Consultation with Indian Nations by American Indian Development Associates highlights successful strategies that define the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between the Indian nations and the U.S. government.
  • Concurrent Tribal And State Jurisdiction Under Public Law 280, by Vanessa J. Jiménez and Soo C. Song
    Every nation’s survival and self-governance hinges on its ability to maintain law and order and secure "comfortable, safe, and peaceable living" among its citizens. Indian nations are no different. Tribal governments need to maintain an adequate measure of justice and peace among their members if they are to survive and develop as viable entities. Tribal justice systems, including tribal courts and law enforcement, are essential institutions of tribal self-government. Currently, many tribal justice systems—widely varied in their relative sophistication and form—find themselves at a pivotal point in their development. Although increasing in number and prominence, uneven political, legal, and financial support impedes the ability of many tribal justice systems to function in full parity with state and federal systems ...
  • Improving the Relationship Between Indian Nations, the Federal Government, and State Governments, by Jerry Gardner
    In order to effectively address criminal justice issues in Indian country and services for victims of crime in Indian country, it is vital that productive efforts are made to improve the relationship between Indian Nations, the federal government, and state governments. The first step required in any effort to improve these relationships is an understanding and recognition of the unique sovereign status of Indian Nations. Second, contemporary problems in the relationship between these governments should be examined. Third, recent examples of efforts to improve the relationship between these governments should be reviewed. Then, the potential use of written cooperative agreements - such as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) - to improve the relationship between these governments should be examined. Finally, practical tips for developing and implementing written cooperative agreements should be reviewed.
  • Resolving State - Tribal Jurisdictional Dilemmas, by Stanley G. Feldman and David L. Withey
    As a project of the Conference of Chief Justices is demonstrating, it is possible through communication and cooperation to minimize jurisdictional problems between state and tribal courts.
  • Multiple Sovereignties: Indian Tribes, States, and the Federal Government, by Judith Resnik
    Although often unrecognized, three entities within the territory that constitutes the United States - Indian tribes, states, and the federal government - have forms of sovereignty. The rich and complex relationships among these three sovereignties need to become integrated into the discussion and law of federalism.
  • Morisset, Schlosser, Ayer, & Jozwiak has a series of papers on Indian Law, including Enforcing Tribal Court Judgments in State Court: Three Perspectives, by Kyme Allison McGaw (September 1994).

State Committees and Commissions on Indian Affairs

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians, is involved in a State-Tribal Relations Project that will address several specific, substantive issues between states and tribes. Both organizations believe in the importance of educating states and tribes on the processes that promote cooperation in problem-solving. This joint project hopes to promote state-tribal interaction as a necessity of state policymaking and to show how cooperation and collaboration can achieve the results that advance mutual objectives. The project also maintains a Listing of State Committees and Commissions on Indian Affairs.

The need for state forums on Indian affairs has increased in conjunction with the need for improved state-tribal relations. Traditionally, these forums have been under the direction of the executive branches in the states. More legislatures, however, are recognizing the benefits of having dedicated committees on Indian affairs or state-tribal relations.

  1. The Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs serves the 22 Indian Tribes/Nations and the State of Arizona.
  2. Created by the Legislative Act in 1984, the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission (AIAC) represents more than 38,000 American Indian families who are residents of the State of Alabama.
  3. Kansas Office of Native American Affairs (KONAA) is the state office dedicated to the Native American population in Kansas.
  4. The Governor's Office of Indian Affairs (State of Louisiana) powers and duties of the  are to administer the programs relative to Louisiana Indians.
  5. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs (MCIA) was created by the legislature in 1974 and its role is to assist Native American individuals, tribes and organizations in their relationship with state and local government agencies and to advise the Commonwealth in matters pertaining to Native Americans.
  6. Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs works to promote public awareness and appreciation of the rich contributions that Indians have made to life in the State. Petitions from Native-American groups are reviewed by the Commission for recognition by the Governor as Maryland Indian tribes. The Commission also reviews requests to the Maryland Historical Trust for transfer to Native Americans of human remains and associated funerary objects in the custody of the Trust.
  7. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council is the official liaison between state and tribal governments. The mission of the Indian Affairs Council is to protect the sovereignty of the 11 Minnesota Tribes and the well-being of American Indian people throughout the state of Minnesota.
  8. Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs (NCIA) purpose is to join representatives of all Indians in Nebraska to do all things which it may determine to enhance the case of Indian Rights and to develop solutions to the problems common to all Nebraska Indians.
  9. The Nevada Indian Commission's vision is to strive for social and economic equality for all American Indian people living in the State of Nevada, while embracing traditional, cultural and spiritual values.
  10. The New Mexico Indian Affairs Department was formed in 1955 by legislative enactment to be the coordinating body between state government and tribal governments. In 1975, the Commission's statute was amended to establish the Office of Indian Affairs and in 1978, the OIA's guidelines were expanded to provide it with broader duties and powers.
  11. North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs mission is to instill a positive vision for American Indians through preserving cultural identity by promoting and advocating the rights, beliefs and opportunities which impact quality of life.
  12. The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission duty includes mediation service with the Tribes and State and working with other state agencies regarding proper protocol in working with Indian people and Tribal governments.
  13. Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission's mission is set by statute to serve as the liaison between the Indian people of the state, Indian leaders of the state, tribal governments, private sector entities, the various Federal and state agencies, and the executive and legislative branches of the Oklahoma state government.
  14. The Oregon Commission on Indian Services (CIS) was created by statute in 1975 to improve services to Indians in Oregon and to serve as a conduit through which concerns are channeled through the network to the appropriate entity; it serves as a point of access for finding out about state government programs and Indian communities; and it serves as a catalyst for bringing about change where change is needed.
  15. South Dakota Office of Tribal Government Relations mission is to establish and maintain an effective communication link between the Governor and the Tribal Governments in the state, to recommend qualified Native Americans to boards, commissions and positions within State Government; and to introduce and/or support any legislation that would improve the quality of life for the Native American population in the state.
  16. The Utah Division of Indian Affairs (UDIA) was created in 1953 when the Utah State Legislature passed the "Indian Affairs Act" creating the Commission on State Indian Affairs. The first director for the UDIA was hired in 1956.
  17. Virginia Council on Indians was created in March, 1982 and consists of eleven members which undertake a comprehensive study of the historic dealings and relationship between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Virginia Indian Tribes. The joint subcommittee report, resulted in the formation of the "Commission on Indians."
  18. The Governor's Office of Indian Affairs (State of Washington) recognizing the importance of sovereignty, affirms the government-to-government relationship and principles identified in the Centennial Accord to promote and enhance tribal self-sufficiency and serves to assist the state in developing policies consistent with those principles.

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Native Organizations

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