A. Tribal Courts in the jurisdiction
The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 guarantees rights similar to the First Amendment, providing that “[n]o Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall . . . make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances.” 25 U.S.C. § 1302. However, tribal courts interpret the ICRA in a variety of ways, and tribes retain the right to exclude nonmember journalists from tribal property. See, generally, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, A Reporter’s Guide to American Indian Law, https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/imported/AMERINDIAN.pdf.
The official website of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, located in Atmore, Alabama, states that all civil and criminal trials, with the exception of juvenile proceedings, are open to the public. See http://pci-nsn.gov/westminster/tribal_court.html. Section 3-1-9 of the Tribal Code states: “All files and records of the courts of the Tribal Judicial System shall be open for public inspection, except that the files and records of juvenile, Drug Court, and ethics matters shall not be open to public inspection and may be inspected only with prior specific judicial authorization. In ethics matters, the parties may waive the confidentiality of any designated files or records.”
There are five independent tribal courts within Idaho: (1) Coeur d’Alene; (2) Nez Perce; (3) Shoshone-Bannock; (4) Kootenai; and (5) Shoshone-Paiute. See https://www.isc.idaho.gov/tribal-state/tribalcourt. These courts have federally prescribed jurisdiction over custody and adoption cases involving tribal children, criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed on tribal lands by members of the tribe, and broader civil jurisdiction over claims between tribe members and nonmembers. Each trial court has adopted its own Tribal Law and Order code. Generally, most proceedings are open unless a tribal judge orders them closed.
In Kansas, tribal courts are maintained by the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska. The Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation has made its Law and Order Code available online, and it includes the following provisions:
"Section 2-2-13. Records
(D) All Court records shall be public records except as otherwise provided by law.
Section 2-2-14. Files.
(A) Except as otherwise provided by law, Court files are generally open to the public. Any person may inspect the records of a case and obtain copies of documents contained therein during normal business hours."
Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation, Law and Order Code, https://www.codepublishing.com/KS/Potawatomi/#!/Potawatomi02/Potawatomi0202.html#2-2.
According to the administrative office of the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation’s Judicial Council, the tribal court proceedings generally are open. Records and proceedings that may be closed include such matters as juvenile cases, children in need of care, adoption, and tribal enrollment or disenrollment, as well as domestic disputes at the request of a party. Also, records of employment dispute may be closed.
According to judicial administrators for the other Kansas tribes, their courts also generally are open with exceptions like those of the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation.
Judicial administrators may be contacted through main tribal offices as follows:
Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
3345 B Thrasher
White Cloud, KS 66094
Phone: (785) 595-3258
Fax: (785) 595-6610
Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas
Horton, KS 66439
Toll Free: 1-877-864-2746
Phone: (785) 486-2131
Fax: (785) 486-2801
Prairie Band Potawatomie
16281 Q Road
Mayetta KS 66509-8970
Toll Free: (877) 715-6789
Phone - Tribal Court: (785) 966-2242 / Toll free: (866) 966-2242
Sac and Fox
305 N Main
Reserve, KS 66434
Phone: (785) 742-7471
Fax: (785) 742-3785
The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 guarantees rights similar to the First Amendment, providing that “[n]o Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall . . . make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances.” 25 U.S.C. § 1302. However, tribal courts interpret the ICRA in a variety of ways, and tribes retain the right to exclude nonmember journalists from tribal property. See generally, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, A Reporters Guide to American Indian Law, https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/imported/AMERINDIAN.pdf.
The Mississippi courts do not address this issue.
Applicable rules vary by tribe. See, e.g., Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Law & Order Code § 1-50-020 (“The Clerk must maintain the confidentiality of all juvenile and domestic relations court files. Only officers of the court, parties, and persons authorized by parties shall be allowed access to court files in domestic relations and juvenile cases. All other court files are open to the members of the Tribe, court personnel, and parties to a lawsuit.”); id. at § 1-60 (“Court files on a particular case are generally open to tribal members. Only the parties and persons authorized by the parties, the tribal judges, or the tribal clerk may inspect the records of a juvenile or domestic relations case and obtain copies of documents included therein. b. Authorized persons may inspect files only during the ordinary working hours of the clerk or the judge, to insure the integrity of court records.”).
In addition to the municipal and state courts, New Mexico has tribal courts that are under the jurisdiction of the reservations. The state and municipal courts generally do not have jurisdiction over these courts, as the Indian tribes and pueblos retain aspects of the inherent sovereignty they possessed prior to becoming subject to the authority of the federal government. See generally Felix S. Cohen, Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law § 6.03 (Nell Jessup Newton ed. 2005). There are currently no reported state law decisions concerning public access in tribal courts.