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American Indian Law: A Beginner's Guide

This Law Library of Congress guide introduces researchers to major topics and resources on American Indian law, including federal and tribal laws and legal resources.


A map of the  contiguous United States, published in 1991, detailing the general locations of American Indian cultural groups
U.S. Geological Survey and William C. Sturtevant, contributors. National Atlas. Indian Tribes, Cultures & Languages: United States. 1991. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

American Indian law is an expansive subject that is shaped from a variety of sources, including: the United States Constitution, treaties, federal and state statutes, court decisions, administrative regulations, and laws created, enforced, and adjudicated by sovereign tribal governments. Under the general heading of “Indian law,” researchers will find many large bodies of law on topics ranging from the environment and natural resources to criminal and civil jurisdiction, and sacred site protection to tribal recognition and enrollment. Many of these matters are addressed by laws enacted by the over 570 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native Villages found across the United States. As a result of these intricacies, researching American Indian law can be complex and confusing for new researchers.

This research guide consolidates and summarizes useful resources on a number of broad topics in American Indian law. It focuses on federal American Indian laws, tribal laws, and tribal government resources. This guide is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all issues covered in American Indian law, but it does offer guidance on the subject’s key legal issues, as well as links to resources that may be helpful starting points for those who are interested in digging deeper into these topics.

Terminology Used In This Guide

“American Indian law” is the broad term used across the United States to describe the field of law covering the relationship between tribal governments and federal and state governments, as well as the laws specific to individual tribes. The term “Indian” refers to Indigenous peoples who lived in North America External prior to the arrival of European settlers. Federal laws refer to Indigenous peoples of Alaska as “Alaska Natives,” and Indigenous peoples of Hawaii as “Native Hawaiians.” When referring to an individual Indigenous person, however, it is recommended to use the term the person or the person’s tribal community uses.

Introductory Resources

The resources below offer a useful jumping-off point for researchers who are interested in reading general overviews of American Indian law. These print volumes and subscription databases are available to researchers who are onsite at the Law Library of Congress. Some materials and databases may also be accessible at your local library. You can use WorldCat External to find the books listed below at a nearby public library.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional digital content are provided when available.

The following resources link to freely available online resources regarding American Indian law.

The below resources cover a wide variety of primary resources related to American Indian law, such as codes, constitutions, and treaty documents.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.