Indian Affairs | Division of Tribal Justice Support-Courts

Division of Tribal Justice Support - Courts

The tribal justice systems are an essential part of tribal governments which interface constantly with BIA law enforcement activities. Congress and the Federal courts have repeatedly recognized tribal justice systems as the appropriate forums for adjudicating disputes and minor criminal activity within Indian country. A large number of BIA officers' arrests are tried in tribal courts. It is important that the BIA law enforcement activities and the operations of the tribal courts complement each other to ensure that justice in the tribal forums is administered fairly and with the utmost integrity.

The Division of Tribal Justice Support serves as a catalyst to promote cooperation and ensure the application of high legal standards among tribal justice systems and the Federal and state judiciary systems. This would apply to both criminal and civil actions.

The objective of the Division of Tribal Justice Support is to develop, operate, and enhance tribal justice systems and the Courts of Indian Offenses. Some approaches to accomplish this include providing technical assistance and training; conducting research concerning the operation of tribal justice systems; and promoting cooperation and coordination among tribal justice systems and the Federal and state judiciary systems. The Division performs tribal court reviews, assessing the courts’ operational activities and its budget limitations and maintains an information clearinghouse on tribal justice systems and Courts of Indian Offenses. This includes tribal codes, judicial decisions, and court profiles.

Associate Director

Joseph Little is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe and is the Associate Director for the Division of Tribal Justice Support. Mr. Little graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law and maintained a private law practice in New Mexico, representing several tribal governments and Indian organizations. He was appointed by the Governor of New Mexico as the Director of the State Office of Indian Affairs. He then served as the BIA Chief, Branch of Judicial Services in Washington, DC, and in that capacity worked with all the tribal court systems throughout Indian country.

In 1989, Mr. Little returned to New Mexico as the Regional Rights Protection Manager overseeing tribal irrigation construction projects, and administered the Safety of Dams program. He served as special assistant to the Assistant Secretary on Indian Affairs on all ongoing water rights negotiations between tribes and states and chaired several Federal water negotiation teams. Following this position, Mr. Little returned to the private practice of law where he was involved with Federal and state legislative initiatives. He served as General Counsel to the Pueblo of Pojoaque, where he was involved in litigating and negotiating tribal gaming and water issues.

During his career, Mr. Little has been appointed to the New Mexico Governor’s Task Force on Water Management; the XI Inter-American Conference of the Indigenous People of North America; and as the acting Area Director for the BIA Albuquerque Area Office. He has served as a board member for the Menaul High School Board of Regents; Pojoaque Pueblo Development Corporation; Laguna Industries, Inc.; and PTE, Inc.