Indian Law Resource Guide

By King County Law Library (with gratitude to Kelly Kunsch) 

At the outset it is important to distinguish between what is meant by Indian law versus tribal law:

One of the most fundamental concepts is the distinction between federal Indian law and tribal law. When attorneys use the phrase “Indian law,” they usually mean any laws concerning Indian tribes or Indians (where an Indian is treated differently than other United States citizens). It is an all-encompassing phrase that suffices because usually it is an area of law not covered by other topical areas. (There are definitely areas of overlap. For example, the Indian Child Welfare Act might be considered part of Indian law but it is also a part of family law. Similarly, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act lies within both Indian law and gaming law.) Particularly with research, it is better to understand the difference between two distinct facets of Indian law: (1) federal Indian law, dealing with the relationship between a tribal government and the federal government (and, by implication, the limited dealings with state government); and (2) tribal law, dealing with the domestic law of any particular tribe; or more generically, the domestic laws of various tribes.

See: Kelly Kunsch, “A Legal Practitioner’s Guide to Indian and Tribal Law Research,” 5 Am Indian L. J. 101, 102-103 (2017).

Anyone unfamiliar with Indian and tribal law research will be well served to read Kelly Kunsch’s law review article “A Legal Practitioner’s Guide to Indian and Tribal Law.” Kunsch covers not only the prominent Indian and tribal law resources but also discusses useful research strategies.


Secondary Sources

Major Treatises
  • Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law by Felix S. Cohen (2012). (First published in 1941 and subsequently republished several times, but the original is still considered a seminal treatise and has historical significance.) Original is available for free from the University of OK:
  • Indian Law in a Nutshell by William C. Canby Jr. (2020). Not your average nutshell.  A well-regarded, often-cited primer on Indian law by a senior judge for the Ninth Circuit. 
  • American Indian Law Deskbook by Conference of Western Attys. General (2008 – updates).
  • Federal Indian Law (Hornbook Series) by Matthew Fletcher (2016).
  • Restatement of the Law, The Law of American Indians by American Law Institute (2022).
Law Reviews

The treaty-making period between the federal government and Indian tribes was from 1778 to 1871. 

Statutes, Regulations & Executive Orders 

U.S.C. Title 25; C.F.R. Title 25


Westlaw and Lexis will be your best bet for searching court opinions. Take advantage of the West Digest System. The main topic is Indians. Kelly Kunsch has very good tips for searching for case law. See: Kelly Kunsch, “A Legal Practitioner’s Guide to Indian and Tribal Law Research,” 5 Am Indian L. J. 101, 114-118 (2017).


Secondary Sources

  • American Indian Tribal Law by Mathew L Fletcher (2020).
  • The Encyclopedia of Native American Legal Tradition by Bruce Johansen & Charles Cloud (1998).
  • Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies by Justin Richland & Sarah Deer (2016).
  • Tribal Criminal Law and Procedure by Sara Deer & Carrie Garrow (2015).
  • Labor and Employment in Indian Country by Kaighn Smith & Richard Guest (2011). 
Tribal Codes
Tribal Constitutions
Tribal Courts
Washington Tribal Law
  • American Indians, American Justice by Vine Deloria Jr. & Clifford M. Lytle (University of Texas Press 1983).
  • Dismembered: Native Disenrollment and the Battle for Human Rights by David E. Wilkins & Shelly Hulse Wilkins (University of Washington Press 2017). 

National Indian Law Library > Law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law. Unique resources, research guides, and research assistance available at