When representatives from tribes throughout Western Washington met in 1979 to explore ways of meeting their justice needs, they realized that there were neither sufficient financial resources nor enough people with the necessary experience to provide individual justice system services for each tribe. They concluded that the most practical solution was to pool their resources to establish a court system: the Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS).
NICS acts as a personnel bank. It started with one full-time judge and now offers prosecutorial, juvenile, code writing, appellate and training services in addition to judicial services. The primary focus of NICS is direct court related services.
Each tribal court is located on its respective reservation. Each tribe has its own particular set of laws, some of which are patterned after, or incorporate by reference, Washington state law. Each court has its own court clerk. Many reservations have their own law enforcement. Many contract with the local county jails to house prisoners.
Each court allows lay spokespeople or advocates to represent litigants in tribal court; however, each court also requires that the advocates (professional or not including attorneys) be officially admitted to practice in the court, to take an oath and, in some cases, to pass a tribal bar exam. A nominal admission fee (generally $10-$50, depending on the court) must be paid. Thereafter, admission is usually good for life unless one is disbarred.
These tribal courts handle both civil and criminal cases- including, but not limited to felony level offenses, misdemeanors, infractions, hunting and fishing offenses, traffic offenses, child dependencies, guardianships, adoptions, civil suits, gaming issues, and tribal employment issues.
Telephone numbers of tribal court clerks and tribal police departments, and other staff may be obtained from NICS or go to the web pages listed on the left column for information.
Northwest Intertribal Court System
Working for the good of tribes in the Northwest