Federal Restrictions on Tribal Customary Law: The Importance of Tribal Customary Law in Tribal Courts
22 Pages Posted: 16 May 2017
Date Written: May 11, 2017
This article examines the adverse effects of federal case law and legislation on tribal courts and tribal courts’ ability to incorporate tribal customary law. Tribal customary law is the law given to tribes by holy deities which governs tribal ways of life. It is important to maintain tribal customary law because it strengthens tribal communities’ identities and cultural foundations. While Supreme Court precedent has, at different times, both restricted and promoted tribes’ ability to use tribal customary law to adjudicate the cases of tribal members, federal legislation including the Major Crimes Act, the Indian Civil Rights Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act, and the Violence Against Women Act continues to restrict tribes’ ability to apply customary law in tribal courts. To illustrate one way in which current federal Indian policy limits tribes’ ability to use customary law, the author highlights the ways in which two-spirit tribal members are excluded and ignored by the protections established in the Violence against Women Act. As the use of tribal customary law is critical to the maintenance of tribal sovereignty, this article advocates for corrections to these legislative restrictions to promote tribal court’s use of tribal customary law.
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