National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault

left barEvidenceUnlike criminal courts (where tribal courts have only limited jurisdiction over some non-Indian domestic violence perpetrators), tribal courts have expansive civil jurisdiction over non-Indians.


Tribal courts can hear civil cases related to sexual violence provided the court has both “personal jurisdiction” over the parties and “subject matter jurisdiction” over the issue in question.




Tribal courts have personal jurisdiction over any perpetrator who has:


Minimum contacts with the tribe (e.g. committed an act of sexual violence on tribal lands, is present on tribal lands, is doing business on tribal lands, etc.) OR
Who has consented to the jurisdiction of the court OR


    • Who has waived any objections to the exercise of personal jurisdiction in the matter by voluntarily appearing before the tribal court OR
    • By filing a motion, response, answer, or pleading in tribal court.


Tribal courts have subject matter jurisdiction over cases where:


  • The conduct in question (sexual violence) occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of the tribal court AND
  • The defendant:


      • a.) Is a member of or eligible for membership with that tribe OR
b.) Is a member of another tribe or a is a non-Indian AND


      • The defendant has entered into a consensual relationship with the Tribe or its members through commercial dealing, contracts, leases or “other arrangements” (e.g. is married to a tribal member, has a child in common with a tribal member, is employed by the tribe, etc.) OR
      • The conduct (sexual violence) threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the Tribe.


National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault, a project by the Southwest Center for Law and Policy © 2019

This project was supported by  Grant No. 2011-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessary represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice. All rights reserved. | Privacy policy   Login