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UPDATED March 12, 2010

General Tribal Law Information

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This page includes general information about tribal law, custody protection orders, and links to other online resources for domestic violence on tribal land.

Overview of Protection Orders and Custody

back to topWhat is a tribal protection order?

A tribal protection order is a tribal court order issued to an abuser to protect a victim of domestic violence. Protection orders usually prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim of abuse, coming near the victim, her children, and her property. Such orders can be temporary or permanent and are usually issued for a specific time period.  Please visit the page Tribal Protection Orders on this site.

Tribal protection orders are issued by tribal courts, but similar court-issued protection orders are available in every state in the US. No matter where a protection order is issued from, it should be valid and enforceable in every state and throughout Indian country. 

It is important to remember that protection orders only work when the victim is willing to take action to have it enforced. Also, the protection order is limited in what it can do in the form of actual protection.

Note: Protection orders may be called different things in each Indian tribe and Alaska Native village and in each state. They might be called "restraining orders," "protective orders," "Orders of Protection," etc. "Protection order" is the generic term we will be using throughout this webpage to refer to this sort of court order.

It is important to note that not all tribal nations have a court system or a police department, and therefore those tribal nations generally do not issue protection orders. If your tribe does not have a tribal court, and you would like to file for a protection order, you can go to the state court nearest you and ask the court clerk how you can file for a protection order. You will find a list of courthouse contact information on this website on the "Courthouse Locations" page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

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back to topHow will child custody issues be handled?

It depends. Custody is very complicated and we recommend that you contact a lawyer to find out how custody will be handled in your case.

Generally, if either of the parents/legal guardians or the child is a tribal member, that tribe will have jurisdiction over the case. It is important to find out if the Court that has jurisdiction over the case is of the same tribe as the family members involved. Non-member Indians are treated differently than member Indians for purposes of jurisdiction in civil cases.

Note: Custody matters involving Indian children are sometimes subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which is a Federal Statute governing the placement of Indian Children who are in any out-of-home placement, voluntary or involuntary, by any state, county, city or government. The act applies to all public or private agencies that remove or place children.

For more information on the ICWA and how it works, please visit one of the following websites:

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Sarah Deer at the Tribal Law & Policy Institute for her assistance in collecting this information.

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