July 9, 2021

 New Tribal Law Digital Publishing Platform 

One significant initiative of the National Indian Law Library (NILL) is its Access to Tribal Law Project.  The project’s mission is to provide tribal leaders, legal practitioners, and the public with convenient access to current and accurate copies of tribal law, including tribal codes and constitutions, intergovernmental agreements, and tribal court opinions. Public access to these materials enhances the power of tribal courts and strengthens tribal sovereignty. To that end, NILL recently implemented an innovative digital tool that will make it easier for tribes to share their codes and updates.

Digital Publishing Project

Last summer, NILL—along with its project partners Open Law Library, the University of Wisconsin Law Library and the Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center—received grant funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a Digital Publication of Tribal Laws Pilot Project (IMLS grant number LG-246285-OLS-20) . Over the last year, the project has been developing a digital platform to publish tribal laws on library websites. The platform allows libraries to offer an online collection of tribal laws, while tribes maintain full control over the digital copies of their laws. 

The project reached a milestone in April, when NILL published on its website the official laws of Stockbridge Munsee Community, Wisconsin. Much like the days when libraries held official print copies of codes on our shelves, we can now hold an official digital copy of a tribe’s laws on our website while the tribe retains control over the content. You can see the Stockbridge Munsee Community's laws at the NILL website here.

Tribes interested in publishing their laws through the Open Law Platform can contact NILL at TribalLaw@narf.org for more information.

The Importance of Access 

The right to know the laws by which we are governed is a fundamental right. Libraries are keenly aware of the importance of access to legal information, but few are able to pay commercial legal databases’ high fees. Our hope is that this affordable digital publishing technology will allow other libraries—especially university libraries, public libraries, tribal college libraries, and tribal community libraries—to make tribal laws more accessible.

The project’s ultimate goal is to increase public access to the laws of Native nations. Tribal members and leaders will benefit from ready access to their laws, which is essential for good governance and ensuring due process and equal protection. Meanwhile, broader public access to tribal law will facilitate inter-governmental collaboration, encourage economic partnerships, and foster greater understanding of tribal sovereignty and perspectives.

Tribal Law Projects at NILL

The Access to Tribal Law Project and the Tribal Law Gateway are high priorities for the National Indian Law Library.  Our goal is for the Gateway to provide access to accurate tribal law information for all of the 574 federally recognized tribes, regardless of how they choose to make their laws available. You can support this work with a donation today.