Wisconsin State Law Library

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WSLL @ Your Service  no. 7/8, July/Aug.  2001 
An E-publication of the Wisconsin State Law Library

Focus On: American Indian Legal Resources @ WSLL

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are more than 550 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native groups within the geographic boundaries of the U.S., each with its own culture, history and identity. The 1990 U.S. census indicates there are more than 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in this country. Federal law recognizes sovereign authority in Indian tribes to govern themselves, an authority greater in many respects that that of the states. This means that, when doing legal research on issues affecting or involving Indians, one must look at not only federal and state laws, but also the laws created by these sovereign tribes and groups for self-governance. Treaties between the U.S. and Indian tribes, and agreements between states and tribes such as gaming compacts are also part of the body of Indian law.

WSLL has a substantial number of resources for researching Indian law issues.  In addition to primary federal and state laws (statutes, regulations and case law), the Library has several significant treatises on Indian law, including Charles Kappler’s multi-volume Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, and the 1942 and 1982 editions of Felix Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law (there is also a web version of the 1945 edition). Library materials specific to Wisconsin Indians include several volumes of treaties and gaming compacts, and information on Wisconsin tribal courts.

WSLL also has a major microfiche collection of Indian law, called Native American Legal Materials (NALM). This historical collection of laws, treaties, and law-related materials pertaining to Native Americans (American Indians, Eskimo and Native Hawaiians) was produced by the Law Library Microform Consortium (LLMC), which borrowed and filmed all of the public-domain titles listed in American Indian Legal Materials: A Union List, compiled by Laura N. Gasaway, James L. Hoover and Dorothy M. Warden (Stanfordville, N.Y.: E.M. Coleman, 1980).

The NALM collection contains approximately 1650 titles on over 6700 microfiche and is not presently included in the WSLL Library Catalog (we hope to secure grant funding to do this). However, it is possible to gain access to the documents by using the NALM index provided on the Washburn University School of Law Library web site. Search the index by title or subject to obtain brief bibliographic information and the LLMC control number, and then contact WSLL to access the full-text documents.

Thanks to technological advances in digitization and resource sharing, collections of historical and current Indian legal resources located elsewhere are accessible, too.  The University of Oklahoma Law Library has several special collections of Indian law materials, including the Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project, which provides full text access to constitutions, tribal codes and other legal documents. The University of Washington’s American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Digital Collection is another excellent resource now available online.  A good resource for Wisconsin Indian information is the Indian Law Office of Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., based in Wausau. In addition to their online materials, they have “one of the best Indian law libraries in Wisconsin,” containing materials on Indian tribes and Indian legal issues within and outside the state. For a convenient list of links to all the above-mentioned resources and more, see the Tribal Law & Government page of the WSLL web site.

For more information about these and other American Indian legal resources, please call or email the WSLL Reference Service. We'll be happy to assist you.

-- Connie Von Der Heide & Julie Tessmer

Upcoming Focus On: topics include  "'What is BadgerLink?" "Judicial Council Materials: A Very Special Collection;" "Using the Internet for Background Checks"