U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Tribal Courts

SERMSAK RATTANAGOWIN/ Shutterstock.com (see reuse policy).

The Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 recognized the right of tribes to enact their own laws and establish their own formal tribal courts. Some tribes have developed hybrid or blended judicial systems, incorporating a more formal focus to ensure due process and the dispute resolution elements of indigenous courts or Courts of Indian Offenses—Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, courts operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Formal tribal courts, unlike the CFR courts, are under tribal control and are directly oriented to the needs of tribal members. 

Tribes without sufficient funding to set up their own courts retained CFR courts. Where economically and administratively feasible, a consortium of tribal governments (small or remotely located tribes) share a court. Member tribes of an intertribal court join their limited resources to ensure that each tribe is able to have a court by sharing judges, prosecutors, and related court services.  

The National Survey of Tribal Court Systems (NSTCS) helps fulfill BJS’s legislative mandate under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TLOA; P.L. 111-211, 124 Stat. 2258 § 251(b)) to establish and implement a tribal crime data collection system. The NSTCS gathers administrative and operational information from tribal courts, prosecutors’ offices, and indigent defense providers operating in the United States.