One of the many interesting things about practicing law in Montana is that we have seven Indian reservations within our borders.
The reservations have their own governments and the states cannot interfere with tribal self-government.
This is important to us, because here in Kalispell, we are close to two reservations: the Flathead Reservation (the Confederated Salish & Kootenai tribes) and the Blackfeet Reservation (the Blackfeet Nation). Both of these tribes have their own courts. When you get your license to practice law in Montana, you don’t automatically get your license to practice law before the Confederated Salish & Kootenai or Blackfeet tribal courts. You have to be separately licensed before these courts to step in the doors.
An even more general concern for attorneys in these parts though, is whether Montana state court even has jurisdiction over matters that: happen in Indian country or concern a registered member of a tribe. In other words, if an action arises on a reservation does Montana state court actually have the power to make a binding decision? Or, if a member of the action is a registered tribal member, does the Montana state court have the power to make a binding decision?
In some cases, the state court will have the power to entertain the action and make final judgments. In other cases, only the tribal courts will have that power. Which court has the power depends on different factors, and the law in Montana is subject to change. But, based on our research, we think that registered tribal members always have the right to bring their claims against non-Indians in state court.
Now that you understand a little bit about Indian law, stay tuned for my next post – an unfolding story of a case caught in the morass of Indian jurisdictional law.