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Tribal Court Systems

Tribal and CFR Courts

There are approximately 400 Tribal justice systems throughout the Nation. These courts are partially funded through Public Law 638 Tribal Priority Allocations (TPA). Tribal sovereignty is protected throughout the Tribal justice system or through a traditional court. 

The BIA does not manage tribal justice systems; however, if individuals are looking for tribal contact information, please contact the Tribal Justice System. For Tribes that do not have their own Tribal justice system, the Court of Indian Offences (CFR Courts) provide that service on behalf of the Tribe (Title 25 CFR Part 11). 

There are five Regional CFR Courts

Title 25 United States Code 3601 et. seq mandates the BIA to provide training, technical support, and funding, when available, to all Tribal courts, including CFR Courts. The Tribal Justice Support (TJS) Directorate furthers the development and enhancement of Tribal justice systems. This includes respecting traditional justice systems and supporting coordination between federal, state and tribal courts.

About CFR Courts

Governing Codes and Ordnances

The Code of Federal Regulations 25 CFR Part 11 govern the CFR Courts, unless laws and ordinances enacted by a governing body of a Tribe, and approved by the Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs, supersede any part of the CFR. Notability, each CFR court should apply the customs of the Tribe when consistent with the CFR.

Criminal Jurisdictions

Criminal cases include misdemeanor cases involving Indians that occur within Tribal jurisdiction. The areas under Tribal jurisdiction include lands defined as "Indian country" under 18 U.S. Code, Section 1511. Indian Country includes land within Indian reservation boundaries in the state, dependent Indian communities, and Indian allotments. Felonies involving Indians within Indian country that are federal crimes must be heard in Federal court. Criminal Cases involving non-Indians in Indian Country are usually brought in state court.

Criminal punishments may include labor, placement in prison, and/or the payment of court costs and fine. The various constitutions of the Indian Tribes provide for civil and procedural rights of persons coming before the court, as do various federal laws including the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA). A public defender is available to defend persons in criminal matters who cannot afford a lawyer and for parents subject to proceedings affecting their right to child custody. Persons appearing in the court are entitled to a trial by jury, and other elements of due process under the Tribal constitutions and the ICRA.

Civil Jurisdictions

The CFR Court can hear many different types of civil cases involving Indian or non-Indian arising in “Indian country”, where Tribal members are defendants. Cases involving Indian and/or non-Indian or non-Tribal member are also permitted by consent of the defendant to the personal jurisdiction of the court. The civil matters heard in the court include divorce, guardianship, custody, child support, determination of paternity, name change, business contracts, personal injury, probate of non-trust property, in addition to other civil disputes. To begin a civil suit, a party, or the party’s attorney must pay the required filing fee and file the required petition. After that time the court may set the matter for hearing and trial, if required.

Establishment

A CFR Court can be established by agreement between the BIA and the Tribe or in the event the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs (or their representative) determines there are health and safety concerns that must be addressed.

The list of Tribes identified under the CFR Courts may change because the Tribe may establish their own Tribal judicial system, with agreement with the BIA Regional Office, thus opting out of the CFR court.

Funding

Upon request from a Tribal court, and based on the Tribal Court Assessment, TJS will provide appropriated funding to tribal and CFR Courts, which is awarded through each of BIA's 12 Regional Offices.  

Tribal Priority Allocations

Tribal Priority Programs Tribal Priority Allocations (TPA) is a group of programs within the BIA's annual budget that provides funding for: BIA Agency Operations, Tribal PL 93- 638 self-determination contracts and BIA field operations. Tribal Priority Allocations funding is important because it supports Tribal self-determination contracts. Many Tribes, especially those that do not have significant sources of Tribal revenue, depend upon TPA funding for the operation of Tribal government functions in the areas of human services, economic development, natural resources management, judicial services and Tribal operations.

Diversion and Re-Entry

Tribal leaders have long-stated that, “there is a crisis situation on Indian Reservations, where substance abuse and violent crime continues to devastate communities at rates much higher than the national average.” Consequently, court systems are encountering unusually high rates of alcohol and/drug related repeat offenders that are dominating the resources of the justice system. To address this, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Diversion and Re-entry Division (DRD). Employees with the DRD work to with Tribes to strengthen and expand treatment options and ensure that justice, safety, alcohol and substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery issues remain the topic of consistent focus in our efforts to effectively serve the needs of Tribal Nations.

Reports and Documents

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