Indian Law is unique in the State of Oklahoma; not only do many tribes have their own Court systems and regulations, but there are also many controlling federal regulations and considerations. As a member of a Tribal Bar Association an attorney is permitted to argue Tribal Law in front of a Tribal Court. Additionally, where there is a waiver of sovereign immunity or where sovereign immunity does not exist, cases involving tribal issues may arise in State or Federal Court. There are also many overlapping issues where Tribes play a role in issues at State/Federal Court (most notably of late: sample cases) especially in family/adoptive/custody matters.
Our firm is licensed in the Cherokee and Choctaw Tribal Courts and Blake Lynch, partner, has received the American Indian Law Certificate from the Indian Law Policy Center at the University of Oklahoma (details of the requirements available here: Native American Law Certificates.
Tribes have jurisdiction over the commission of minor crimes by Indians within the boundaries of the Tribal lands. These crimes generally include traffic and licensure issues, misdemeanor drunken criminal acts, and many simple drug possession violations. There are federal and Tribal limits on punishments in these cases, however that does not make representation any less important. A conviction on tribal lands may lead to increased punishment in future cases off of tribal lands, including the enhancement of certain misdemeanor offenses to felonies.
When a person is injured in Indian Country there is always confusion in determining against whom and where to file. The Tribe is immune from suit for the most part, though there exist waivers of that immunity in contracts and statutes. Individuals operating businesses in Indian Country may also be subject to suit within tribal Courts. Whether you are injured in Indian Country or are being sued in Indian Country for liability it is important to contact an attorney familiar with how to determine the proper parties, jurisdiction and strategy for your case.
The tribes play a vital role in determining the welfare of Tribal children. The State and Federal Indian Child Welfare Acts (ICWA) help in setting guidelines for when the removal is a Tribal child is appropriate. These rules are an enhanced requirement from the general state rules that provide protections to intact tribal families. The rulings regarding the ICWA change its meaning almost every term the Supreme Court convenes. It is important whether you are a parent whose child has been taken or a family trying to care for a child who has been removed from a tribal parent that you have the advice of an attorney experienced ICWA knowledgeable attorney.
Divorce/Guardianship/Custody and Parentage/Child Support/Adoption
This area of law is wrought with concurrent and overlapping jurisdictions. If you are a member of a tribe you may be allowed/subject to tribal jurisdiction for everything from child support collection, Divorce proceedings, parentage cases, guardianships, etc. However, you are just as likely to have a case on the same subject matters brought against you in State court. It is important to understand your rights and how they differ in each Court system.
If you are a tribal member and are interested you may use the tribal court system for divorces, paternity cases and child support. There are pros and cons to using the Tribal Court system that you need to know about before you begin a procedure.
Also, if you are a person trying to adopt or get guardianship of a tribal child it is imperative that you seek someone with an in depth knowledge of the ICWA and how to comply. There is no shortage of horror stories where a good intentioned family member or caring person tries to get custody or adopt a child and due to a failure to comply with the ICWA the child is later removed or placed elsewhere.
In any of these types of cases it is literally critical that you contact an attorney with Tribal Law experience. The attorneys of Wagner and Lynch can ensure that your rights are protected and that you are not left without relief due to a lack of compliance with rules regarding tribal issues.