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Tribal-State Court Forums Policy Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
9 pages

After reviewing the need and rationale for the establishment of tribal-state court forums, this paper outlines suggested focus areas for these forums and some common themes in a forum’s success.


Tribal and state courts interact in addressing many issues, including child welfare, cross-jurisdictional enforcement of court orders, and civil commitments. Tribal and state courts may disagree on jurisdictional issues, which can complicate and obstruct addressing important issues for both jurisdictions. Collaboration between tribal and state courts in common concerns builds trust that can improve safety and justice in Indian country. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Conference of Chief Justices provided leadership in the development of tribal-state court forums, which bring together state and tribal judges and court personnel to find a common ground in addressing interjurisdictional issues. Areas outlined in this paper for consideration by these forums are the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) which involves interaction between tribal and state courts in addressing child welfare matters pursuant to ICWA; recognition of tribal court orders by state courts; and jurisdictional uncertainties. Themes of success in 13 currently active forums include 1) having co-chairs of one tribal court judge and one state court judge; 2) maintaining a balance between state and tribal participants; 3) ensuring that meetings are in tribal locations if possible; 4) the forum becoming institutionalized through rules of the court or other state Supreme Court action; and 5) holding regular meetings to ensure goals are set and monitored. An appended chart provides the following information for each of 13 state-tribal court forums: state name, year formed, membership, authority, and key accomplishments.

Date Published: January 1, 2020