Our Work

Michigan Indian Legal Services provides free legal assistance in many legal areas. Also check out our Self-Help and Education pages!

Contact Us to get started with an intake by calling 1-231-947-0122.

Michigan Indian Legal Services (MILS) was created to address the unmet legal needs documented in a study conducted by the Michigan Governor’s Commission on Indian Affairs in the early 1970s. The study found “[t]here are not enough attorneys available to Michigan Indians; when available, they are frequently unable to specialize in Indian rights cases because these are not fee-producing in nature; day to day criminal and civil cases are difficult to coordinate without funds to hire good legal help.” See Annual Report of the Commission on Indian Affairs, 1975. The core of MILS’s mission from its founding in 1975 is to provide quality legal assistance to Indian communities throughout the State of Michigan. Almost from its inception in 1975, MILS’ focus was on assisting tribes in Michigan regain federal recognition. Success in federal recognition efforts produced increased economic, educational and health care opportunities for tribal members. As the tribes in Michigan have gained federal recognition and achieved economic self-sufficiency, MILS’s focus has turned from tribal governance development to representation of individuals.

As the most impoverished group in the United States, many in the Native American communities face unmet legal needs. In its 1979 report to Congress, LSC concluded they face additional barriers to accessing civil justice. These barriers arise from the distance from Native communities to legal services, historic distrust of legal institutions, ethnic and cultural differences, and the distinct and complex nature of their legal needs. Their legal needs often involve complicated questions of jurisdiction, Indian status under federal laws, and treaty rights. They may require legal engagement with multiple governmental agencies and courts. As such, LSC has recognized the need to maintain specialized programs focused on tribal and federal Indian law. 1007(h) Study (1979); Kickingbird & Sepulvado, American Indians and Legal Services: 1966-1988 (1988); Dahlstrom & Barnhouse, Legal Needs & Services in Indian Country (1998); National Association of Indian Legal Services, Legal Needs & Services in Indian Country; NAILS update to Dahlstrom-Barnhouse's 1998 Report to the LSC (2008). 

Michigan is home for the Three Fires Confederacy, the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodewadomi Nations and there are 12 tribes with whom the federal government acknowledges a political relationship. There are several tribes in Michigan whose political status has been ignored by the federal government and many communities in the urban areas in the state. Michigan’s entire Native America population includes members of nearly every tribe in the Nation, as well as many Canadian-born Native Americans. 

The 2020 Census found 61,261 Native Americans (single race) in Michigan and an additional 243,833 who identified as mixed race Native American. The 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that there are 152,454 American Indians in Michigan (race alone and more than one race) out of a population of 10,050,811. ACS also estimated that 27.6% of the individuals who identified as Native American in Michigan were living at or below 125% of poverty as opposed to general state population rate of 16.9%.