Family Law in Indian Country

Family Law in Indian Country - Professor Cheryl Fairbanks and Professor Sheldon Spotted Elk

  • Course Number: LAW-907
  • Course Type: Foundational
  • Credits: 2
  • Enrollment Limit: Determined by the Registrar
  • Description: This course will examine Indian child welfare matters, including the analysis of federal policies and the impact on Indian families and community; the Indian Child Welfare Act and tribal, state, and federal law. In addition, the course will provide an overview of issues concerning Native American youth and families from an Indian community perspective. Special emphasis will be given to resolving family disputes using case law, family conferencing and traditional dispute resolution models.


    The course takes a multi-disciplinary look at evolving family systems (boarding schools to urban populations), social controls (culture and ceremony), institutional structures (tribal, councils), state and federal courts and laws, violence data and racism. Students will discuss strategies and innovations to address contemporary issues in the application of Federal Indian law.

    Students will review the historical and cultural aspects of ICWA as well as the practical application. Students will examine the recent changes to the Major Crimes Act in relation to crimes that are a violation against women and children in Indian Country. Students will research the just released first comprehensive regulations for the substantive legal requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA. The regulations provide the first legally binding federal guidance on how to implement ICWA. The regulations will go into effect 180 days from the date of their release June 8, 2016, providing time for state agencies, private agencies, and state courts to prepare for their implementation.

    Guest speakers from leaders supporting Indian Country (e.g., NICWA, NAYA, NAPOLS, Red Lodge) will provide perspective on working in Indian Country.

  • Prerequisite: none
  • Evaluation Method: 20% PARTICIPATION IN CLASS: Thoughtful commentary drives the class and benefits your fellow students. The final grade for participation is intended to incorporate attendance, class preparation, and thoughtful commentary and participation in class discussions. With such a condensed class, attendance is imperative and our expectation is that you will not miss any classes. In the event that you need to miss a class, please email with maximum advanced notice. In the absence of emergent and unavoidable circumstances, missing more than one class will adversely impact this portion of your final grade. Students can boost participation grades by keeping current on Indian law issues/events that occur during the course of the class and raising them during the opening of class.  Exceptional participation can elevate a borderline grade.


    50% FINAL PAPER: A 12-15 page paper relating to Family Law in Indian Country on the topic of your choice (proposal must be approved). Your proposal (think an abstract for a journal article) is due for our review February 1. We are happy to help you refine your topic. Your paper should address a current issue that a tribe or group or community faces and relate the issue(s) to those covered in class. Theses need not be limited to a particular tribe, nor to a particular aspect of the class. Please note, all citations should follow the Blue Book method (for law review). Paper will be evaluated for structure/guidance, writing craft (mechanics, clarity, blue book citations), substance (research challenge, breadth of resources, proper weight of information presented or not presented, adequate support for thesis, and accuracy and clarity).

    30% CLASS PRESENTATION: A 15-20 minute presentation on your paper topic to the class. You will be graded on preparedness, quality/accuracy, and clarity of presentation. Class presentations are scheduled for April 10th and 12th.

  • Capstone: no
  • WIE: no