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Legal Information: Tribal

Abuse in Tribal Communities

Updated: 
November 6, 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