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The Unique Nature of Serving Papers on Native American Reservations

 Unlike standard American neighborhoods throughout the country, Native American reservations function under their own set of laws. The incredibly complicated past of the Native Americans, particularly in correlation with colonization and Western Expansionism, culminated in Native Americans and their reservations being placed under the direct control and power of the federal government. This is a stark contrast to other U.S citizens, who answer to their state governments for most matters. This relationship with the federal government means that service of process on an Indian reservation requires a special set of approaches.

Understand Tribal Law

Native American tribes “possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government,” according to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. Based on this declaration, any tribe can legally enforce tribal laws that are not consistent with the U.S federal government. This difference makes service on reservations tricky, since servers can’t just use the federal government’s guidelines as a resource. Thankfully, Leading Edge Ed, LLC has compiled a comprehensive guide with this information that is very useful before completing serving on reservations, and speaking to local law enforcement can also help.

Include Reservation Police

Given the discrepancies described above, it’s also very helpful to communicate with tribal police before entering a reservation. They will most likely want to escort the process server, and will be more willing to provide permission to enter when clear communication occurs.

Remain Diligent with Paperwork

Service on an Indian reservation is akin to completing service of process out of state, so you need to file the correct papers. Not just the summons and complaint, but also any other documents relevant to the tribal court. Many tribal governing bodies now have an online presence, which can make it infinitely easier for you to navigate through this unique job.