Written by attorney Sebastian Gibson

An Indian Law, Tribal Law and Native American Peoples Law Overview

Tribal reservations can be found in a number of areas in Southern California, notably in areas such as in or near the cities of the Coachella Valley such as Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Indio and Coachella as well as in or near Anza, Cabazon, Temecula, San Jacinto, El Cajon, Pala, in the counties of Riverside, San Diego as well as in Santa Ynez in the county of Santa Barbara. Unless you have been practicing Indian Tribal Law for some years, it is difficult for most attorneys in the United States to know how Tribal Law works, much less to find useful resources to help explain this unique area of law. Fortunately, at our law firm, attorney Sebastian Gibson has experience with Indian Tribal law in California. Most tribes vest their legislative authority in a tribal council. Some tribes call it by a different name, but the council members are usually elected and for a specific number of years. Most tribal constitutions call for there to be a tribal chairman who is alternatively sometimes called president or governor. Some tribes elect the tribal chairman by a vote of their council. Others elect the tribal chairman by the voting tribal members. Tribal bylaws often state that it is the chairman's duty to preside over the tribal council. The role or power of the tribal chairman differs from tribe to tribe. Indian tribes also have a long history of tribal courts. Today, most tribal courts administer tribal codes passed by the tribal council and which have been approved at some time by the Secretary of the Interior. Tribal court systems can by highly structured with tribal prosecutors and defense advocates. Others are made up of informal single judges who work only part-time. Many tribes elect their tribal judges, commonly for a fixed set of years. Indian tribes also often have a tribal attorney who often has a large influence on tribal affairs, particularly in dealings with non-tribal parties. The tribal attorney has responsibility to the entire tribe, not to its individual members. Some tribes are incorporated under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act. Some tribes have voted to reject application of that Act. Indian Tribes have sovereignty which means the inherent right to govern themselves. Tribes, however, have no authority over non-members on non-Indian fee lands, and no criminal authority over non-Indians anywhere. Tribal sovereignty acts as a shield against state law intrusion onto Indian country. States may not directly tax reservation land or reservation Indians. Tribes enjoy sovereign immunity from suit except for suits by the United States. A tribe does not waive its immunity by bringing an action on its own. A tribe may however waive its sovereign immunity by contract. If you need assistance with an Indian or Tribal law matter in California, we recommend you call an Indian Tribal lawyer as this is a very specialized area of law and few attorneys have much, if any, experience in this specialty. Because of the sovereignty of Indian tribes, our law firm does not handle cases against Indian casinos.

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