Tribal courts are courts of general jurisdiction which continue to have broad criminal jurisdiction. The general rule is that states have no jurisdiction over the activities of Indians and tribes in Indian country. Public Law 280 (PL 280) created an exception to this rule in certain states. The U.S. Congress gave these states criminal jurisdiction over all offenses involving Native Americans on tribal lands. Through PL 280, the federal government transferred to these states the federal government’s criminal jurisdiction over Indian country, and it opened state courts up as forums for civil litigation that had previously only been able to be brought in tribal or federal courts. The effect of PL 280 is that in many areas state and tribal courts share jurisdiction.
Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may
be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.
The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 requires states to “protect the best interests of Indian children.” Many states are collaborating with tribal courts and leaders in innovative ways to ensure permanency and safety for Native American children.
Since the early 1980s, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has provided expertise in over twenty projects involving various aspects of tribal courts.
A How-To-Do-It-Guide to Prevent and Resolve Jurisdictional Disputes and Improve Cooperation Between Tribal and State Courts. This question and answer guide addresses the role of the forums in the Tribal Courts and State Courts: The Prevention and Resolution of Jurisdictional Disputes Project.