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Native Peoples and Indian Law


Federally recognized American Indian tribes are self-governing, sovereign nations with broad powers over their members and territory. Laws governing tribal members, land use and ownership (real property), business formation and activities (corporate law), as well as procedures for both criminal and civil matters occurring on Indian reservations, are collectively referred to as Indian Law. These laws govern not only the rights of enrolled members, but also those of non-Indians when issues arise on tribal land.

Tribal lands encompass more than 55 million acres across the country. A complex set of intersecting state, federal, and tribal laws govern all of the activities that occur in Indian Country. Whether you are starting a business, accused in a criminal matter, have a civil dispute, or are injured on tribal land, an understanding of this complex system is imperative. Hiring an attorney experienced in how these laws overlap can make all the difference in the outcome of your legal matter.

In North Carolina, there are over 56,000 acres of land that fall under the control and jurisdiction of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Ordinances passed by the Tribal Council are enforced by the Principal Chief and tribal civic employees. The modern Cherokee Court handles civil and criminal matters falling under the jurisdiction of the EBCI. Many of the laws governing civil and criminal matters are similar to state and federal laws, though significant differences exist both procedurally and in substance. In criminal matters, a legal representative should understand how jurisdiction affects the outcome of criminal charges.

At Coward, Hicks & Siler, we possess the understanding of Indian law necessary to successfully represent both enrolled members and non-Indians in matters occurring on EBCI lands. We respect and seek to understand the culture and tradition of the Cherokee people and the systems of jurisprudence and municipal law created by the Tribe’s government. We are prepared to assist in all matters arising on the Qualla Boundary and those which fall under the jurisdiction of the EBCI.

We provide a wide range of legal services relative to Indian Law. These include:

  • Probate and Estate Law for Tribal Members
    • Estate Planning: Wills and Trusts
    • Estate Administration: Probate and Will Contests
  • Tribal Corporate Law
    • Business Formation and Operation
    • Business Leases
    • Business Permits
    • Business Debt Collection
  • Tribal Municipal Law
  • Writing and Presentation of Tribal Council Resolutions and Ordinances
  • Tribal Enrollment Issues and Appeals
  • Tribal Real Property Law
    • Land and Boundary Disputes
    • Land Easements
    • Sale and Transfer of Land
    • Civil and Criminal Trespass
    • Residential Leases
    • Construction Matters
  • Tribal Court Criminal Matters and Member Representation in other Courts
  • Traffic Violations on Tribal Properties

Attorney Jay Coward is a municipal and governmental lawyer practicing law in Western North Carolina and in Tribal Court for many years. He studied the Cherokee language at Kituwah Language Academy. He is conveniently located in the Sylva office. Contact them for a consultation regarding your Indian Law matter.

Contact J.K. COWARD