Boarding School Healing
Native American children were forcibly abducted from their homes and put into Christian- and government-run boarding schools beginning in the mid 1800s and into the 1950s. This offense was pursuant to a federal policy designed to “civilize” Indians and stamp out Native cultures; a deliberate policy of ethnocide and cultural genocide. We work to create the space for our Native nations to heal from the boarding school policy.
Historically, the U.S. denied tribes the right to govern their citizens’ education. Our tribal education work focuses on restoring this governance. In the 2000s, we created the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly (TEDNA). Today, we work with TEDNA to strengthen tribal governance in education. Our education work also has included work with Indian Education for All and tribal educational facilities.
Environmental Protection & Climate Change
Many Native Americans face risks related to environmental problems. Problems like water contamination, dumping, air pollution, mining waste, and climate change. As sovereigns, tribes have the right and responsibility to govern their territory’s environment. Helping tribes protect the environment is a top priorities. In Alaska, the impact of climate change is immediate and immense, and we represent tribes fighting to save their communities.
Federal Recognition of Tribal Status
The existence of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes does not depend on a formal political or legal act by the United States government. However, federal acknowledgment of a tribe establishes a government-to-government relationship and status for federal purposes. We have successfully represented several tribes through the federal acknowledgment process, which can take decades and considerable expertise and resources.
Hunting and Fishing (Treaty Rights, Subsistence)
Hunting and fishing remain vital to many tribes. Based in tribal sovereignty, governmental agreements also affirm tribal hunting and fishing rights. Today, demand for animals and fish often exceeds supply, putting tribal rights at risk. Frequently, that scarcity stems from ill-advised U.S. policies. So, besides legal aid, we provide technical assistance and negotiate inter-governmental agreements to restore and maintain habitats.
Indian Law Advancement (Awareness of Indian Issues, Tribal Supreme Court Project)
NARF has been essential in developing a robust body of federal law related to tribal issues. It includes laws that address tribal sovereignty, tribal land and natural resources, Native human and civil rights, and the accountability of governments to Native people. Part of that work is to educate officials, judges, attorneys, and the public about Native American issues and rights.
Historically, Native American communities had methods for dealing with disputes. Indigenous peacemaking processes are consensus-based and address the concerns of all interested parties. The mission of our Indigenous Peacemaking Initiative is to promote and support Native peoples in restoring peacemaking practices in their communities. That support includes training and technical assistance, advocacy, and maintaining a collection of resources.
Intellectual Property (Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources, Collective Knowledge, WIPO)
Indigenous Peoples have the right to control and protect their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as their intellectual property rights over the same. We advocate to include Native peoples’ in discussions and decisions on intellectual property law and policy. (Photo credit: WIPO, E. Berrod)
Mascots, Hate, & Native Representation
Mascots and similar imagery negatively affect how Native youth view themselves. They also affect how non-Natives view Native Americans. They are part of a long history of treating us as if we are not people. NARF actively fights against things like hateful mascots and derogatory place names that don’t belong in a multi-cultural America. It is time for the United States to move forward, beyond these derogatory terms and imagery.
NARF News (NARF Announcements, Publications, Staff, Board, Events)
While most of our work is devoted to representing tribal nations, NARF attorneys and staff occasionally publish much-needed Indian Law resources and present at events to help explain and advance Indian Law issues. (Not surprisingly, NARF staff also are frequently recognized for the significant contributions they make to Indian Law.) Learn more about our latest events and happenings here.
Native Lands & Sacred Places (Land Back, Treaty Rights, Tribal Homelands, Historic Protections)
Many tribes have land reserved in agreements with the United States. Meanwhile, historic federal policies opened tribal lands to non-Indian ownership. The resulting checkerboard land ownership causes a great deal of dispute. Our work addresses tribal land matters including boundaries, access, control, and protecting sacred places.
Religious and Cultural Rights (Religious Freedom, Repatriation, Peyote, NAGPRA, Graduation)
Given the history of hostility toward and misunderstanding of Native religions, NARF works hard to protect religious freedoms. We helped pass the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. We assist Native students being prohibited from wearing sacred eagle feathers at graduation. All the while, we wage legal battles on issues like the use of peyote, possession of eagle feathers, and the rights of Native inmates.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples (FPIC, UN Declaration, OAS)
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples across a broad range of areas, including self-determination, spirituality, land, and resources. It can be an impetus for change, but it is only a framework. Implementation will require sustained effort. Laws and policies must change to fulfill the Declaration’s promises. We are partnered with Colorado Law on The Implementation Project, which works to implement the Declaration and honor Indigenous rights in the United States.
Tribal Child Welfare (ICWA, State Child Welfare, Tribal Courts)
From the early 1800s through the 1970s, assimilation policies led to the forcible removal of Native children from their homes and communities. Subsequent policies, like the Indian Adoption Project of the 1950s and the widespread removal of children from their families in state custody proceedings led to the 1978 enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA, and similar state laws, increase tribal authority over tribal child welfare. We have litigated high-profile ICWA cases and are a respected resource on child welfare issues.
Tribal Sovereignty and Jurisdiction
Long before the United States became a country, Indigenous Peoples were independent and self-governing sovereigns. Because they are sovereigns, tribes still govern their own members and remaining territory. It is the core of NARF’s work to represent tribes in their exercises of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. We help tribes maintain their longstanding government-to-government relationships with the United States and establish government-to-government relationships with states and municipalities.
Trust Fund Matters
For centuries, the federal government imposed itself as the trustee for tribal lands and resources. This responsibility obligates the U.S. to ensure that tribes receive just compensation for the use of those resources. Under the current policy of tribal self-determination, the U.S. Congress has allowed tribes more control over their resources. However, this does not address the past serious errors administering tribal and Indian trust matters. We represent tribes in holding the federal government accountable for its years of mismanagement. Such cases can take decades to resolve.
Violence Against Native People (VAWA, MMIW)
Despite federal trust obligations to protect Native communities, violence against Native women is epidemic. Limitations placed on tribal government jurisdiction by the United States are a key contributing factor, with non-Native perpetrators repeatedly falling through cracks in the system. There is an urgent need to address legal barriers that prevent tribal nations from protecting their citizens. Our work has centered on advancing Native people’s safety through policy and legislation, like the Violence Against Women Act.
Voting and Civil Rights (Juries, Census, Voting, Redistricting)
For most Americans, the right to vote is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution; however, the federal government denied Native Americans voting rights until 1924, and some states waited until the 1960s to extend this vital right. Native Americans still face discriminatory laws and unreasonable burdens when trying to exercise the right to vote. Some states have enacted voting schemes such as districting that effectively dilute Indian votes. In addition to the information on this site about our voting and civil rights work, find voting-related resources at vote.narf.org.
Water Rights (Settlements, Treaty Rights, Water Quality)
Water is life. Often, the demand for water far exceeds the supply. NARF devotes a considerable amount of work to issues surrounding this crucial resource. Our work focuses on protecting tribes’ right to water on their lands, securing water access, developing water policy, and protecting water quality.