Yukon-Kuskokwim Region



This Guide Will Explain:



Due Process Rights in Tribal Court

  • Due process means that the court must treat everyone fairly.
  • The The Indian Civil Rights Act requires that all people receive due process.
  • For tribal courts, that means you are entitled to three things:
    • Notice - the court must tell you about the hearing so you can be present
    • An Opportunity to Be Heard - the court must give you a chance to speak and to tell your side of the story
    • A Fair and Impartial Hearing - the hearing must be held in a formal fashion with no conflicts of interest 
  • A conflict of interest is when an officer of the court, like the judge, has a personal interest in the case and might be biased or impartial.
  • For more on what due process requires the court to provide you, please visit AVCP
  • If you think you were denied notice, an opportunity to be heard or a fair and impartial hearing, you can contact an attorney.


The Scope of Tribal Court Jurisdiction

  • Jurisdiction means that the court has the ability to hear your case.
  • If a tribal court has jurisdiction, then all state courts and state agencies must respect the decision of the tribal court. 
  • In Alaska, tribal courts have jurisdiction over tribal members when the issue involves matters related to internal governance of the tribe such as:
    • Adoptions • Child Custody • Child Protection • ICWA Intervention • Marriages/Divorces • Probate/Inheritance • Cultural Protections • Domestic Violence • Assault/Disorderly Conduct • Juvenile Delinquency • Vandalism • Misuse of Firearm • Trespass • Drug and Alcohol Regulation
  • Not all tribal courts will hear cases on all the matters listed above.
  • For more information about jurisdiction, visit AVCP


The Types of Cases in Tribal Courts in Bethel & the Lower Yukon-Kuskokwim

  • Tribal Courts may handle a wide range of civil matters:
    • Child Welfare, Child Custody, Marriage/Divorce, Guardianship, Adoption
    • This is not a full list; contact the court for more details.
  • Whether a particular case meets the subject matter eligibility requirements is determined on a case-by-case basis. That means you must contact the tribal court and explain your case. The court will tell you if they can hear it.
  • With regard to jurisdiction over the parties, it is most proper where one or more of the parties is a tribal citizen or at least eligible to enroll with the Tribe. However, even in cases wholly involving non-members, jurisdiction to handle the matter can come through either express or implied consent. 
    • Express consent is when one party says they accept tribal jurisdiction.
    • Implied consent is when a party acts in a way that shows consent to tribal jurisdiction.


How To Start a Case in Tribal Court

  • Tribal court or council services are started by filing a petition with the tribal court clerk or tribal council administrator. 
  • Some tribes maintain websites that have links to the petition you can use to start a case.
  • However, many tribes do not maintain websites.
    • If that is the case, to obtain a petition, contact the tribal court or tribal government directly.
  • A tribal court directory is found here
  • If you cannot contact the tribal court or tribal government, the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) might be able to assist: 
    • Phone: 1 (800) 478-3521 (Toll Free) or (907) 543-7300
    • Email:


What is Tribal Code and How Can You Access It

  • Tribal codes are the written rules that make tribal law.
  • Tribal courts follow their tribal code.
  • It is important to familiarize yourself with tribal code, so you understand what you must prove or disprove to succeed in your tribal court case. 
  • If you wish to see the tribal code, ask the court clerk or point of contact.


Free or Low-Cost Legal Assistance Options

  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC)
    • ALSC assists low-income clients who are facing critical civil legal issues. These issues include: consumer law, family law, housing problems, public benefits, healthcare complications, Alaska Native law, and other areas specific to veterans or the elderly.
    • ALSC also offers free community legal clinics
    • 1-888-478-2572. If you are unable to call, you can also fill out an application for ALSC’s Services.
  • Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC)
    • Supports individuals who have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused by a partner or are seeking assistance with a legal issue like divorce, separation, child custody, support or protective order.
    • ANJC might be able to represent you or advise you on how to represent yourself.
    • Phone: (907) 793-3550
  • Alaska Network of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA)
    • If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, ANDVSA offers free, confidential assistance, including legal advocacy and court accompaniment.
    • That means they may offer an advocate to assist you in tribal court.
  • Disability Law Center
    • The Disability Law Center may be able to assist you with legal representation, but they take cases on a case-by-case basis and according to what their resources allow.
    • There is no application for legal assistance. They ask that you contact them directly at:
    • 907-565-1002 (in Anchorage) or 1-800-478-1234 (Statewide)
    • or Email


How to Appeal (ask the Court to Reconsider) a Decision

  • If you are not happy with the outcome of your tribal court case, you may be entitled to an appeal. An appeal is when a higher court reviews the decision of a lower court.
  • The appeal process will be defined by tribal law (written or customary) or the tribal court’s code. This includes how to appeal, the process the court will use for the appeal, and what standards the court will apply.  To find out how to appeal, you should contact the tribal court clerk. Some tribal courts have multiple levels of appellate courts.
  • To find out if the tribal court for your case allows parties to appeal and the process for an appeal, contact the court directly.


The need to “Exhaust All Remedies” in Tribal Court Before Moving to State Court

  • Before a state court will rule on a case that was already decided in tribal court, the party who wants the state court to look at the case must first exhaust (meaning try) all tribal court remedies.
  • If the appeal does not change their decision, you may then appeal to a state or federal court.


Contact Information and Forms

  • Many forms and documents can be obtained by contacting the tribal council or court directly.
  • Tribal court or council representatives can answer many questions about tribal court procedures.
  • If a tribal court or council has a website, you may be able to access important documents there. If the tribal court does not have a website, call the court directly.
  • A tribal court/council directory is found here
  • If you cannot contact the tribal court or council, the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) might be able to assist: 
    • Phone: 1 (800) 478-3521 (Toll Free) or (907) 543-7300
    • Email:
Last Review and Update: Aug 19, 2021