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Legal Information: Tribal

Tribal Law

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March 12, 2010

Is there a tribal legal definition of domestic violence?

There is no one tribal legal definition of domestic violence.  Each Indian tribe and Alaska Native village can define domestic violence differently.  There are a total of 565 Federally Recognized Nations* (330 Nations and 226 Alaska Native Villages).  There are 23 Nations that have State recognition only.  Numerous others lack both Federal and State recognition, however these Nations continue to affirm their Sovereign Status.**

Generally, domestic violence is defined as a range of verbal and physical behaviors between family or household members that cause harm or fear of harm to an individual. Domestic violence can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, threats of abuse, psychological abuse, abuse to property, stalking, and other forms of harassment.

An example of a legal definition of domestic violence is: Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; sexual assault of one family or household member by another, or stalking of one family member or household member by another family or household member.  This definition is not related to any particular Indian tribe, but it may be similar to what you can expect from the laws in your own tribe.

To find out what the legal definition of domestic violence is for your tribe, ask the clerk of the court in your community, or ask someone at a battered women's shelter or domestic violence resource center. You will find a list of many Tribal Codes online at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute's website.

If your tribe does not have a tribal court, and you would like to file for a protection order, you can go to the state court nearest you and ask the court clerk if you are eligible to file for a protection order. 

* Bureau of Indian Affairs, available at www.bia.gov/FAQs/index.htm
** "Family Violence and American Indians/Alaska Natives: A report to the Indian Health Service Office of Women's Health," Laura A. Williams, MD, MPH, et. al. (2002)

How can a protection order help me?

Protection orders cannot guarantee your safety, but in addition to prohibiting your abuser from contacting you or coming near you or your children and property, they can protect you in several different ways:

  • Police are likely to take your calls more seriously if you have a protection order.
  • Your abuser can be arrested and put in jail if he violates a protection order.
  • If you have left your home, a protection order can make it easier for you to get the police to go with you to get your personal belongings.
  • A protection order can help protect you at your job if you're being stalked or harassed.

How long is a protection order in effect?

It depends. Protection orders are in effect for different periods of time in each state and tribe.

To find out how long your protection order is in effect, read your copy of the order. It will usually state the expiration date on it.

You can also ask the judge, the court clerk, or someone at a women's resource center how long protection orders are in effect in your community. The judge may be able to extend your protection order if the circumstances warrant it in certain states or tribal areas.