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Indian & Tribal Law

Resources for researching federal Indian law and Native American tribal law.

What Is Federal Indian Law?

Indian law deals with the relationships among Indians, tribes, and federal and state governments. Can a state impose a sales tax on a reservation smoke shop and its customers? Can a state require an Indian to have a state fishing license? Who will prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians on Indian reservations? And on and on.

Sources of law include treaties between the United States and tribes, federal statutes, and federal cases. (There are state statutes and state cases, as well.)


The Caselaw Access Project provides free access to millions of federal and state cases scanned from the Harvard Law School Library's collections. Each case is shown in text (created by OCR), with a link to a PDF of the original pages (with headnotes redacted, to protect the publishers' copyrights). 

screen snip of timeline, showing boxes for several cases and statutesThe Caselaw Access team has released an experimental timeline feature (called Chronolawgic).

Check out this timeline of federal Indian law.


  • The timeline template has cases on one side and events on the other. I have fudged by adding statutes and treaties to the cases side.
    • Of course, the Caselaw Access Project doesn't include statutes and treaties, so I had to link outside.
    • When possible, I linked to free sites. A couple of times, I linked to HeinOnline for Statutes at Large.
  • The template lets you annotate on two levels. Brief annotations appear as you scroll through the timeline. If you click on a box, you might see a longer annotation (e.g., a quotation from a case).
  • I have only annotated a small portion of the entries. At this point, I'm still experimenting.
  • The template allows users to code entries with colored shapes.
    • I've used a black circle for criminal cases and a bright green diamond for cases that originated in Washington State.
    • I marked fishing rights cases with a pentagon, choosing (what else?) salmon as the color.
    • The idea is that you can skim through the timeline and see a series of cases on a topic. What other topics would you like?
  • How did I decide what cases to include? I turned to Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Principles of Federal Indian Law (2017) (print, ebook) and added most of the cases that merited a section heading.

This is a work in progress. I welcome comments. Are there cases you'd like me to add? How about events for the events side of the timeline? Do you want to offer a quick annotation to fill in? Would you like to see more codes?

Thanks. Mary Whisner (