Knowledge of Applicable Laws

While tribal court clerks do not have to be lawyers, and be in complete command of all federal, state, and tribal law that might apply to the intricacies of operating tribal courts in Alaska, they should be generally familiar with the basic laws that apply to their tribal courts.

One federal law that affects all tribal courts in the United States is the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968. That Act is similar to the United States Bill of Rights, and requires tribes to provide ‘due process’ in the activities of their tribal courts. ‘Due process’ means that parties to a case must be adequately notified of court hearings, that people who are parties in a case have an opportunity to be heard by the court, and that the Judges are fair and unbiased. Tribal court clerks must be familiar with due process as they play a critical role in helping the court provide it, particularly by providing notices to parties. (See Indian Child Welfare Act)

Tribal court clerks should also be familiar with the general nature of tribal court jurisdiction in Alaska, which is the authority to make and enforce laws through tribal courts. The jurisdiction of Alaska tribes has been highly challenged through state and federal court cases, and will be shifting for some time to come. Basically, Alaska tribes have the right to organize tribal courts and to make and enforce laws through those tribal courts particularly in the area of domestic relations when tribal members are involved. Although the jurisdiction is less clear, many Alaska tribal courts are asserting their jurisdiction over other subjects as well, such as protecting the health and safety of the tribe and tribal members through civil violations. (See also: http://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-4/alaska-tribal-sovereignty-and-jurisdiction-major-case-law-affecting-alaska-tribal-jurisdiction/ )

Clerks should be familiar with the traditional values and practices of the tribe, as well as with the written laws of the tribe. The clerk should be particularly familiar with any court rules, judicial codes, and subject matter codes concerning the types of cases the court may handle. The clerk should make these written laws available to the judges during every court hearing. (See sample domestic relations code).