Tribal Law & Government Center

Tribal Law

Effectively representing Indian nations and tribes requires an understanding of the laws, history and policies that affect them. The complexity of "Indian law," and the lack of specific programs designed to educate graduates about the unique legal and cultural needs of Indian people, has created a situation in which lawyers representing Indian tribes place too great an emphasis on state law and federal law when dealing with Indian nations. As a result, these lawyers may unconsciously be contributing to the weakening of unique tribal legal and governance traditions by recommending the adoption of tribal laws and policies founded upon the Anglo-American legal and political traditions rather than the unique traditions of their tribal clients.

Through its activities, the Tribal Law & Government Center at KU Law aims to equip students and legal professionals who will represent Indian nations with the skills necessary to appreciate and strengthen the unique nature of indigenous tribal legal systems.


Core Courses

  • Sovereignty, Self-Determination and the Indigenous Nations
  • Native American Natural Resources
  • Federal Indian Law
  • Comparative Law
  • Special Topics in American Indian Law (such as Indian Gaming and Economic Development in Indian Country)

Related Courses

  • Federal Courts and the Federal System
  • Legislation
  • Public International Law
  • International Law Seminar
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Business Associations I
  • Public Lands and Natural Resources
  • Water Law
  • Local Government Law
  • International Human Rights
  • Oil and Gas

Course descriptions

Tribal Lawyer Certificate

The Tribal Lawyer Certificate program is designed to ensure that law students aspiring to a career representing Indian nations have the skills necessary to appreciate and strengthen the unique nature of indigenous tribal legal systems.

JD/MA in Indigenous Studies

KU Law's joint degree program in law and indigenous studies allows students to graduate with both the J.D. and an M.A. in Indigenous Studies in seven semesters, including summer school. The program aspires to facilitate the protection and strengthening of indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and self-sufficiency in indigenous nations throughout the Americas. The University of Kansas was the third institution of higher learning in the United States to offer a joint degree program relating to indigenous peoples.


The Tribal Judicial Support Clinic gives second- and third-year students the opportunity to assist tribal court systems through a variety of projects. Although the Tribal Law & Government Center gives priority to the research requests of regional tribes (Kansas and Oklahoma), clinical students have worked on projects for tribal courts throughout the nation.

Students also may be interested in the Legislative Clinic, in which they intern for members of the Kansas Legislature and study advocacy in the legislative process.

Tribal Law & Government Conference

Each year, KU hosts the Tribal Law & Government Conference, which devotes significant scholarly attention to the study of organic tribal law, modern tribal governments and the evolution of tribal common law. The conference highlights how works of scholars and tribal jurists addressing the emerging and historical problems of indigenous law and governance are critical to strengthening tribal sovereignty.

19th Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

"The Future of Indian Education"
Friday, March 13, 2015 | Burge Union | University of Kansas | Lawrence, KS

Registration will open in February 2015.

The 2015 Tribal Law & Government Conference at the University of Kansas School of Law will discuss the status quo of Indian education and how it might change in the future based on President Obama’s recent commitment to reform.


  • Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior (invited)
  • Dawn Baum, Senior Attorney, Indian Education Team Leader, Division of Indian Affairs, Office of the Solicitor (confirmed)
  • William Mendoza, Executive Director, White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaskan Native Education (confirmed)
  • President Venida Chenault, Haskell Indian Nations University (confirmed)
  • Melody McCoy, Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund (confirmed)
  • Mandy Smoker Broaddus, Director of Indian Education, Montana Office of Public Instruction (confirmed)
  • Connor Warner, Instructor, University of Missouri-Kansas City (confirmed)

CLE Credit
Conference organizers will apply for 3 hours of CLE credit, including 1 hour of ethics, in Kansas and Missouri.

Past conferences

18th Annual Tribal Law & Government Conference

"The Indian Child Welfare Act: Past, Present and Future"
Friday, March 7, 2014 | Burge Union | University of Kansas

The conference has reached capacity, and registration is now closed. As space allows, walk-in traffic may be accommodated on the day of the conference.

Poster for "The Indian Child Welfare Act: Past, Present and Future"

This year’s conference focuses on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), one of the most sweeping statutes in the field of federal Indian law. As Barbara Ann Atwood explained, “ICWA was designed to remedy a unique and longstanding record of child welfare abuses by federal and state officials, state court judges, and private adoption agencies that led to widespread removal of Indian children from their homes and communities.” Intense interest in ICWA was recently sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of and decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in June 2013.

The conference will explore: 1) the historical origins of ICWA, 2) the Court’s decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 3) the potential future of ICWA, and 4) ethical considerations related to ICWA.

KU Law's annual Diversity in Law Banquet will follow the conference. Conference attendees are invited to attend the banquet.

CLE Credit and Lunch
6 hours of CLE credit, including 1 hours of ethics, are approved in Kansas and Missouri. Attorneys who wish to receive CLE credit will be assessed a $25 fee. Lunch will be provided.

Parking is available for $1.50 an hour in the Visitor Parking Garage, just south of Green Hall. Visitors who park in surface lots near the law school will be ticketed.

Cancellation Policy
All cancellations received on or before February 28 will be refunded 100 percent. No refunds will be allowed after that time.

Contact Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner at 785-864-1139 or


8:30 Continental Breakfast
9:00-9:15 Welcome Remarks
Dean Stephen Mazza, KU Law
Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Director, KU Tribal Law & Government Center
9:15-10:15 Indian Child Welfare Act: Its Origins and Application (PDF)
Dean Stacy Leeds, University of Arkansas School of Law
Moderator: Burton Warrington, President and CEO of Prairie Band LLC
10:15-10:30 Break
10:30-12:00 Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl: The Arguments, The Decision and Potential Implications
Mark Fiddler, Mark Fiddler Law Office (PDF)
Chrissi Nimmo, Assistant Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation (PDF)
Moderator: Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Director, KU Tribal Law & Government Center
12:15-1:15 Lunch, Gridiron Room, Burge Union
1:30-3:00 The Future of ICWA
Russ Brien, Brien Law LLC (PDF)
Vivien Olsen, Attorney with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (PDF)
Professor Colette Routel, William Mitchell College of Law
3:00-3:15 Break
3:15-4:15 Ethical Considerations Related to ICWA
Professor Kate Fort, Michigan State University College of Law (PDF)
Moderator: Rebecca Howlett, KU Law Student and KU NALSA Member
4:15 Closing Remarks

Program Accessibility
We accommodate persons with disabilities. Please submit your request no later than February 28 to or 785-864-9208 TTY: 711.


Other Opportunities

KU's Native American Law Students Association is an organization of dynamic students, both Indian and non-Indian, who organize annual service projects and social events. NALSA members attend National NALSA conferences and participate in the National NALSA Moot Court Competition. On two occasions, the KU team has won first place in the competition. NALSA members also routinely attend the annual Federal Bar Association's Indian Law Conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Group members also provide mentoring and study materials.



Elizabeth A. Kronk Warner
Director, Tribal Law & Government Center
Associate Professor of Law

Tribal Law Conference
Submit a Request for Assistance

Interested in obtaining assistance from the Tribal Judicial Support Clinic? Use this form to submit a work request.

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