The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a significant population in North Carolina, and members of that nation who are accused of a criminal offense may be subject to tribal law instead of the laws of the state of North Carolina. Sometimes that’s an advantage, and sometimes it isn’t, depending on the charges. The rules (and penalties) used in a tribal court are much different than the state’s.

Who exactly is subject to tribal law?

It’s a complicated question that doesn’t always have an easy or obvious answer, because you can have Native American ancestry and still not qualify for tribal citizenship. You can also have tribal citizenship and still not meet the requirements to have your case heard in tribal court if you’re the member of a tribe that was never officially acknowledged or recognized by the United States federal government.

Generally speaking, just having Cherokee ancestry isn’t enough to make you subject to tribal law. To be a member of the Cherokee nation, you likely need a Certificate of Indian Blood (CDIB) and documents that directly connect you to a lineal ancestor whose name appears on the “Dawes Roll” (also known as the “Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedman of the Five Civilized Tribes).

If you’ve been charged with a crime and the case may ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the tribal court here in North Carolina, make sure that you work with an attorney who has the experience and knowledge to assist you properly. Our office can handle criminal cases in both the state court and tribal court, as needed.