Tribal Laws

Tribal Laws

Q: Are there different laws on the reservation than off of the reservation?

A: Yes, federal Indian reservations are areas of land that are controlled by the tribes that live on them and protected by federal law. Each recognized tribe is considered a sovereign nation and as such, they have the ability to create and enforce their own laws on their land (U.S. Constitution Article I §8).


Q: Where can I find the laws for the reservations?

A: Many tribes have websites that include their laws. A compiled list of tribal laws can be found online at the National Indian Law Library ( or at the Tribal Court Clearinghouse (


Q: If I commit a crime on a reservation can I be punished?

A: Yes, crimes that are committed on a reservation can be punished by the tribe and by federal law, even some state laws may apply depending on the crime.


Q: I thought it was illegal to gamble in Arizona, is gambling legal on a reservation?

A: You may gamble at a casino on the reservation if you are 21 years old or older (A.R.S. §5-601). Only reservations are allowed to have businesses that conduct gambling, however, other gambling such as the lottery are permissible if the player is 21 years old or older (A.R.S. §13-3301 & A.R.S. §5-565).


Q: How do tribes get federal recognition?

A: Tribes are federally recognized through treaties, acts of Congress, federal court decisions, or administrative procedures (25 CFR §83).


Q: How do Native Americans govern their tribes?

A: Historically, tribes have governed themselves according to their cultural traditions, customs and clans. Today, for the most part, they govern themselves through elections and self-government.


Laws may have changed since the last time this article was updated.  The current and most up-to-date laws can be accessed here.