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Researching Federal American Indian and Tribal Law: Getting Started

Land Acknowledgment Statement--University of Illinois System

The University of Illinois System – with its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield – rests on the land of multiple native nations. These lands were the traditional birthright of indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed and who have faced two centuries of struggle for survival and identity in the wake of dispossession. We hereby acknowledge the ground on which we stand so that all who come here know that we recognize our responsibilities to the peoples of that land and that we strive to address that history so that it guides our work in the present and the future.

For more information on the University of Illinois System's land acknowledgment statement, see https://www.uillinois.edu/about/land_acknowledgement

About

The UIC law library has a wide array of resources in both print and electronic formats that can help with researching the federal law of Native Americans. There are also many useful websites listed in this guide that are specific to the field. In addition, the guide lists “current awareness” sources that researchers may utilize to keep abreast of legal developments. 

Researchers should keep in mind the various terminology utilized to describe this area, including Native American Law, Indigenous Law, Federal Indian Law, American Indian Law, Indians of North America, etc. Specific tribes, or groups of tribes, may also have different descriptors, such as the Creek (Muskogee). 

The Newberry Library

The Newbery Library in Chicago houses the Edward E. Ayer Collection, which is one of the richest collections of Native American materials in the United States. The Newberry is also home to the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, which was founded in 1972. 

Research Guides & FAQs for Federal Indian Law

Introductory Title

The following is an introductory work that focuses on Native American Law. 

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

The NCAI was founded in 1944. According to its website, "The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities." The website contains an array of resources related to the law of Native Americans; see, e.g., under "Resources" and "Policy Issues." 

Cohen's Federal Indian Law

Felix S. Cohen (1907-1953) is known as the "father of Federal Indian Law."  He joined the U.S. Department of the Interior Solicitor's Office in 1933 and drafted the first edition of the Handbook of Federal Indian Law in 1941. 

The treatise is now available on Lexis Advance as Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law and is updated regularly. 

National Indian Law Library

The National Indian Law Library (NILL) of the Native American Rights Fund is a law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law. According to its website, "NILL maintains a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and assists people with their Indian law-related research needs." The library itself is located in Boulder, Colorado. 

Restatement of the Law: The Law of American Indians

At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the American Law Institute (ALI), the membership voted to approve the Proposed Final Draft of this Restatement, marking the end of the project. The official text was published in 2022. A detailed description of the project is available on the ALI website. 

The Restatements are available in Westlaw, Lexis, and HeinOnline ("American Law Institute Library").