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Can Indian Tribes Be Sued?

While suing an Indian Tribe itself is often difficult or impossible because of sovereignty issues, that immunity doesn't always extend to individuals living on a reservation. 

The ability to bring a law suit against a Native American company or individual is a matter of subject matter jurisdiction.  Subject matter jurisdiction is a court's authority to listen to a case because of the subject the case touches.  For instance, contract laws are governed by individual state laws and thus state courts have authority when hearing cases concerning contracts. 

State laws in the past have not applied to Native Americans on reservations.  Recently, Congress has listed specific states in which American courts are allowed to process civil lawsuits between Native Americans and non-natives.  Contract and tort laws like personal injury are now enforceable against Native American?s in state courts if your state has been authorized to do such.  State criminal laws are almost always enforceable on Native American lands while regulatory laws such as speeding and taxes are not. 



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Last Modified: 12-14-2011 04:33 PM PST

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