Tribal Court Civil Jurisdiction

Tribal courts in Michigan resolve civil, criminal, and other legal matters within their jurisdiction. For civil matters, the jurisdiction of tribal courts extends to matters involving people who live on reservations or do business there. Federal and state court rulings honor tribal courts’ exclusive authority in most civil cases against any Indian in Indian country. This includes cases brought against an Indian by a non-Indian in Indian country, and all cases between tribal members that arise in Indian country.

Contact MILS

If you need additional assistance, please contact MILS at 231-947-0122.

Tribal courts’ authority to hear cases has been shaped over the years by the rulings of many Supreme Court cases and federal statutes involving jurisdiction within Indian country. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have created important precedents in Indian country jurisdiction, such as Worcester v. Georgia, Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, Montana v. United States, and McGirt v. Oklahoma. Today, the jurisdiction of Federal, state, or tribal courts usually depends upon whether the parties involved are tribal members, the nature of the offense, and whether the events of the case took place in Indian country.

Tribal court jurisdiction is a complicated issue and there are many exceptions to the general rule. You may find more specific information about jurisdiction in the appropriate Tribal Code

What counts as Indian Country?

Indian Country, as defined by Congress in 1948 is: 

a) "all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of way running through the reservation, 

b) all dependent Indian communities within the borders of the U.S. whether within the original or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and whether within or without the limits of a state, and 

c) all Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including rights of way running through the same." 

This definition of Indian country includes all land within an Indian reservation, even property owned by non-Indians.