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Legal Information: Tribal

Abuse in Tribal Communities

Laws current as of May 23, 2019

Am I eligible to get a protection order?

Each Native American tribe/pueblo and Alaskan village has different laws that describe who is eligible to file for a protection order and who is not. Generally, if you have been the victim of domestic violence by a family or household member (as defined by your tribal laws) or you have a fear of serious injury or harm by a family or household member, then you may be eligible to file for a protection order. Most tribes/pueblos or Alaskan village require you to be “an Indian” in order for you to file in tribal court for a protection order. You normally don’t have to be enrolled if you live within the tribal territory, but the violence or threat of violence has to take place within that tribal territory.

In order to find out what the laws in your area are, you may want to go to your tribal courthouse and ask the court clerk what the eligibility requirements are for filing for a tribal protection order. To find the contact information for the tribal court in your tribe/pueblo or village, you can look on the Tribal Court Clearinghouse website

How much does it cost to get a tribal protection order?

The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prohibits states, tribal nations, and territories that receive certain federal funding from charging fees for protection orders that deal with domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.1 Most of the tribal nations receive this funding and so, therefore, you should not be charged a fee to file or serve the order.

1 34 U.S.C. §§ 10450(a); 10461(c)(1)

Do I need a lawyer?

You can represent yourself throughout the process of seeking a tribal protection order, which is called being pro se. Many people are successful in getting protection orders on their own. However, in many situations, it would be to your advantage to have an attorney to help you through this process. This is especially true if the abuser has an attorney or child custody issues are involved.

You can go to our Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals in your state. If you do not want an attorney or cannot find an attorney, there may be another option. Some tribal courts allow non-attorneys who have gone through special training, often called lay advocates, to practice in tribal court. Your local domestic violence program may have lay advocates or even legal advocates who can help you to file for a protection order and prepare for the hearing. You may be able to connect with someone who can help and who knows the system by contacting one of the tribal coalitions listed on the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center website.

If you want to research tribal codes and constitutions, you can go to the Native American Rights Fund’s National Indian Law Library website.