United States Commission on Civil Rights

Confidential Draft Report
“Enforcement of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968”

May 1990


Indian Civil Rights, page 26
specifically addressed the question of whether the tribe could impose language requirements on nonmember attorneys:

Although a tribal court is required by the Indian Bill of Rights to allow representation by a professional attorney it does not follow that the court cannot impose certain regulations or qualifications on the appearance of such an attorney.  In formulating such regulations, however, a tribe should be careful that it does not so restrict an attorney's appearance that his representation is effectively nullified.  For example, although the tribe may conduct proceedings in the tribal language (assuming that the defendant speaks the language or is furnished an interpreter) it probably could not require that the attorney demonstrate a knowledge of the language before his allowed to make an appearance.  Because of the extreme rarity of attorneys with a knowledge of an Indian language, such a requirement would effectively bar all professional attorneys from appearing in tribal court.  A reviewing federal court would almost certainly conclude that such a requirement is unreasonable and violative of the defendant's right to counsel. [55]

     In its Statement for the Commission, the Tribe cited two cases to support its policy on use of counsel.  In the
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     [55] Model Code for Administration of Justice by Courts of Indian Offenses, 40 Fed. Reg. 16,689, 16,696 (1975).

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