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  • October 21, 2020

    U.W. Law Library Receives Grant to Improve Access to Tribal Laws

    The U.W. Law Library recently received a grant that will provide greater access to tribal laws across the state.

    Bonita J. Shucha

    digital library

    Oct. 21, 2020 – The U.W. Law Library recently received an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant in the amount of $239,000 for their Digital Publication of Tribal Laws Pilot Project.

    NAMEBonnie Shucha is associate dean of the U.W. Law School and director of the U.W. Law Library.

    This three-year, collaborative project brings together in partnership the U.W. Law Library, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, the U.W. Law School Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center, the National Indian Law Library, and the Open Law Library.

    The right to know the law by which we are governed is a fundamental right. Access to our laws is essential to protect and promote due process and equal protection, access to justice, and self-governance. However, for a majority of the 574 federally recognized tribes, no laws have been published. Where it is available, tribal law is scattered across databases, websites, and print publications, often incomplete and outdated. This lack of access to tribal law is the impetus behind the application for this project grant.

    The Digital Publication of Tribal Laws pilot project addresses the critical gap in the availability of published and accessible tribal laws by developing tools to provide this content freely online.

    The project combines a publishing platform for Native Nations which addresses issues that plague other law publishing methods – such as tribal control, currentness, authentication, and preservation – with a yet-to-be created open source library platform that combines the law of many tribes via a free, open access, federated search portal for enhanced discovery on library websites.

    “Through my work as a tribal court trial judge and appellate justice, tribal court staff attorney, and tribal court administrator for several tribes over the past two decades, I have seen first-hand the need for a simple and coordinated way to digitally publish and access tribal law,” observes Jill E. Tompkins (Penobscot) of the National American Indian Court Judges Association, “This pilot project will undertake the critical work of gathering and publishing tribal laws with direct input from members of the Native Nations. Tribes will retain full control over their laws and this tool will allow them to publish their laws in a standardized digital format, enabling unified access and search functionality across the laws of all participating tribes.”

    At this time, the pilot project is limited in scope to include the laws of only two tribes - the Stockbridge Munsee, project partner and the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, which already uses the publishing platform – and two libraries – the U.W. Law Library and the National Indian Law Library.

    Other Native Nations and libraries will be encouraged to participate in the future. When completed, this project will improve access to tribal laws published into the public domain and more fully serve the needs of diverse users including tribal members and leaders, legal, business, and government professionals, academic researchers and learners, and the public. The more tribes and libraries that participate, the stronger and more useful the platform will become.

    The project has been endorsed by the National American Indian Court Judges Association, the Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute, WiLS (Wisconsin Library Services), and the U.W.-Madison libraries.

    For more information about the grant including the full project proposal, see the IMLS website.

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