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Legal Information: Tribal

Abuse in Tribal Communities

Updated: 
May 23, 2019

Is there a tribal legal definition of domestic violence?

Most tribes/pueblos and Alaskan villages have their own legal definitions of the crime of domestic violence although some tribal communities follow the state law definitions. An increasing number of tribes are also making dating violence a crime. In most criminal cases that take place in tribal courts, tribes are not allowed to charge a non-Indian with crimes.1 In civil matters, such as filing a protection order, most tribes do have the ability to enforce those orders over non-Indians. There are a total of 573 federally-recognized Nations.2 There are also nations that have state recognition.3 Numerous others lack both federal and state recognition. However, these Nations continue to affirm their sovereign status.

Generally, domestic violence is defined as a pattern of power and control within an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can include physical abuse, sexual assault, threats of abuse, psychological abuse, abuse to property, stalking, and other forms of harassment. You can read more about the forms of abuse on our About Abuse page.

You will find a list of many Tribal Codes online at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute’s website or at the National Indian Law Library. In addition, to find out what the legal definition of domestic violence is for your tribe/pueblo or village, you may want to ask the clerk of the court in your community or ask someone at a local domestic violence program. You can also check your tribe’s websites or tribal court websites for information.

To find the contact information for the tribal court in your tribe/pueblo or village, you can look on the Tribal Court Clearinghouse website. However, there may not be a tribal court in every tribe/pueblo or village. To find state courts, you can go to our Courthouse Locations page.​

1United States v. Oliphant, 435 U.S. 191, 98 S. Ct. 1011, 55 L. Ed. 2d 209, 1978
2Bureau of Indian Affairs
3 National Congress of American Indians

What protections can I get in a tribal protection order?

Protection orders cannot guarantee your safety, but they can protect you in several different ways. Although the exact protections will vary from one tribal court to another, a tribal protection order may include terms that:

  • prohibit the respondent (abuser) from having any contact or communication, direct or indirect, including by phone, mail, email, text message, or through third parties with you, your children, or your current intimate partner;
  • order the respondent to stay a certain amount of feet away from you, your home, your school, your business, your workplace, your children, your children’s school or daycare, or your current intimate partner;
  • force the respondent to leave the home that you both share and to stay away from it, regardless of whose name is on the lease, mortgage, or other real estate agreement;
  • grant you custody of, or visitation with, your children;
  • order the respondent to pay you child support;
  • order any additional terms are that are necessary to ensure your safety or the safety of your children; and
  • kick the respondent off the reservation if it’s necessary to prevent future acts of domestic abuse.1

1 See, for example, “Domestic Abuse Order After Hearing” form from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Tribal Court, available on the Tribal Protection Order Resources website

How long is a protection order in effect?

Protection orders can last for different periods of time depending on the laws of the specific Native American tribe/pueblo or Alaskan village. For example, on Navajo lands, a protection order can last for up to five years,1 while a protection order only lasts for one year on Cherokee lands.2

1 Navajo Nation Code Title 9 § 1662(C)
2 See Cherokee Family Violence Center