Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s find you the answers you’re looking for.

FAQs for Individuals

Q. Can CILS represent me on a criminal law matter?

A. No, CILS cannot represent you in an ongoing criminal law matter due to our grant funding restrictions. However, CILS may be able to assist you with clearing your criminal record.

Q. Can CILS represent me against a tribe / tribal organization / reservation / casino?

California Indian Legal Services has been in existence for over 50 years and during that time we have represented every tribe in the state. Because of our work, CILS is often conflicted out of cases against tribes or tribal enterprises. Moreover, our Indian v. Indian policy, which includes limited exceptions, prevents CILS from taking sides in legal disputes between tribes and/or individual Indians.

Q. How do I qualify for CILS services?

A. CILS provides representation in areas of federal Indian law, with the exception of our Bishop CILS Office. CILS can provide free representation to individuals who are at or below the federal poverty level. To determine if you are eligible for free services, you will need to meet with the Intake Specialist in the CILS office that serves your county. In limited cases and depending upon the legal question, if an individual does not qualify for free services, CILS may represent clients in a fee-for-service capacity at a lower-than-market rate.

Q. Do I have to be Indian / Native American to qualify for CILS services?

A. Yes. CILS’s funding is limited to representation of Native Americans and Tribal representation with exception of our Bishop Field Office.

Q. Does my tribe have to be from California to qualify for CILS services?

A. No. If you live in California, and your tribe is located outside of California, you may still be eligible for CILS services if your case involves a question of federal Indian law. Please contact the CILS office that serves your county to complete an intake call with our Intake Specialist to determine whether your legal matter is one that CILS practices.

Q. Do I have to be enrolled to qualify for CILS services?

A. No. As long as you can demonstrate that you are a member of or are affiliated with a California unrecognized tribe then we can assist you if your case involves a question of federal Indian law.

Q. I am a parent or legal guardian in an ICWA case, who do I contact for representation?

A. CILS only represents tribes in dependency cases, we cannot represent parents, legal guardians, or other family members. Parents, legal guardians, and Indian Custodians whose children have been removed due to abuse and/or neglect allegations are entitled to court appointed legal representation in child welfare cases. To obtain representation, you must tell CPS or the court that you want an attorney.

Q. My children were recently removed from my care by Child Protective Services. Can CILS help me?

A. Special federal and state laws may apply to dependency cases, where an Indian child is removed from his home because of alleged abuse or neglect. CILS only represents tribes in dependency cases, not individuals, but we can still provide general information about the Indian Child Welfare Act and its state law counterparts.

Q. If one of your offices says they are unable to provide me with legal services, can I contact another CILS office for help?

A. No. Each CILS office serves particular counties in the state of California visit our field offices pages. If the office that serves your county cannot assist you, then none of the other CILS offices will be able to assist you.

Q. How can I make sure my assignment or allotment is inherited by my descendants I choose?

A. Assignments and allotments are two different types of land often found within Indian reservations. An “assignments” is land owned by the tribe but issued to a tribal member for his or her personal use which is generally for the member to live on. Tribal members do not have ownership rights to their assignment and generally cannot device through a will. However, most tribes allow the tribal member to designate through a tribal process who they would like their assignment to go to at their death and the tribe will honor their wishes as long as the person designated is a tribal member. It is best to check with your tribe for regarding your assignment rights and how to designate who you want your assignment to go to. . “Allotments”, are federal lands held in trust by the United States government for the benefit of the allotees. Allotees can gift their allotment interest during their lifetime or leave it to others by will after their death.

Q. Can CILS represent me in a family law matter?

See Answer to Q. What is federal Indian law?

Q. Can CILS assist me with problems I have with my landlord?

See Answer to Q. What is federal Indian law?

Q. Can CILS assist me with a wrongful termination?

See Answer to Q. What is federal Indian law?

Q. If CILS cannot represent me, can CILS still assist me?

A. Even when CILS cannot represent you, we may still be able to provide general information and/or referrals to outside agencies or practitioners that may be helpful.

Q. I am being discriminated against because I am Native American, can CILS assist?

A. Maybe. Each case will have to be assessed individually. Generally, a claim of discrimination arises in the area of being denied housing or employment. CILS can assist you with submitting a complaint to the state Department of Fair Employment Housing who will investigate your case complaint and it is discrimination is found the Department will represent you in a case against the employer or landlord. If the Department, determines there has been no discrimination, CILS will assess your case to determine if it has legal merit to pursue.

Q. I’m calling to find out about my Indian benefits.

A. If you are an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe you may qualify for certain health care services, housing, educational scholarships or benefits directly from your tribe. However, simply American Indian heritage does not entitle you to a a monthly check or benefits from the federal government.

Q. Do I qualify for free health care because I’m American Indian and or Alaska Native?

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a health care system for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. It’s important to clarify that the IHS is not a health insurance provider and that the IHS provides direct healthcare Alaska Native and American Indians at IHS operated or funded clinics.

Q. How do I find out if I own Indian land?

A. Contact the Office of Special Trustee (OST) Trust Beneficiary Call Center. The OST oversees Indian allotted (trust) lands and individual Native American accounts that contain payments from leases on an allotment. Below is the contact information.
Office of Special Trustee Trust Beneficiary Call Center Phone: (888) 678-6836 FREE

Q. Can I transfer my dependency case from state court to tribal court? If so, how?

A. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) tribes can become a party to certain cases involving a tribal member child or children. The ICWA allows the parent(s) or the tribe to request a transfer of proceedings from state court to tribal court. The state court must transfer unless one of the following occurs:
1. The tribal court declines jurisdiction

2. Either parent or custodian objects to such transfer;

3. The state court determines that good cause exists to deny the transfer.

If the parent(s) or the tribe requests a transfer or jurisdiction, either orally or in writing, the county should support the transfer, unless there is a good cause not to transfer jurisdiction (25 U.S.C. § 1911[b]. All parties to the cases should know that even if the case is transferred to a tribal court it will not automatically mean that the Indian child will be returned to his or her parents.

Q. Can CILS help me unseal my adoption records so I can discover what tribe(s) I may be from?

A. CILS does assist clients with unsealing their birth records. This involves preparing your petition and other judicial forms. If you are over income, we may be able to assist for a fee. If you would like, please contact the CILS office that covers your county and ask to speak with our Intake Specialist or visit the legal topic page for this issue.

Q. I am not eligible for free services. Does that mean CILS cannot help me?

A. Not necessarily. If you do not qualify for free legal services under our income guidelines, we may be able to assist you on a fee for service basis if your case involves a question of federal Indian law. Our hourly rates are competitive and offer the same level of service.

Q. Can CILS help me with enrolling into my tribe?

A. Due to potential professional conflicts of interest, we do not assist directly with enrollment. However, we can assist you by directing you the tribe’s Enrollment Office and explaining what documentation you may need to establish your eligibility.

Q. A relative told me I am part Native American. Can CILS research my Indian ancestry for me or tell me if I am eligible to enroll in a tribe?

A. No. As sovereign governments each Indian tribe defines its own membership criteria. . CILS can provide you with information packets about tracing American Indian ancestry which include helpful information about the history of federal Indian policy, links to the National Archives and other online research tools.

General FAQs

Q. What is an “Indian will” and how is it different from a regular will?

A. An “Indian will” distributes, Indian allotted (trust) land and trust assets (money earned from an Indian allotment). Indian land and assets are subject to the federal American Probate Reform Act and are probated through the Probate Division of the federal Office of Hearings and Appeals rather than a state court. visit our legal topic page.

Q. What is ICWA and how does it apply?

A. The ICWA is a federal law that requires state courts to follow special rules when the state court is hearing a case involving a Indian child who is a member of tribe or is eligible for membership in a tribe and one of the parents is a member of a tribe. Due to the historical treatment of Native children being removed from the custody of their parents at a higher percentage rate as compared to non-Native children, Congress passed the ICWA. The Act applies to “child custody proceeding” which includes dependency cases, private guardianship and adoptions or in a proceeding in which the parents cannot have their child returned to them on demand. The ICWA does not apply to divorce cases or child custody cases between parents. The are many safeguards in the ICWA that protect the removal of Indian children without expert witness testimony and higher evidentiary findings. A key component to the ICWA is that the child’s tribe can intervene in the case and participate as a party. The tribe’s involvement in the case ensures that the ICWA is being followed and that the tribe can remove the case to its tribal court. Preference for placement of an Indian child under the ICWA requires that the placement with the child’s family, a tribal member family or a tribal family. For a further and more detailed overview of the ICWA visit our blogs on the topic.

Q. What is federal Indian law?

A. Federal Indian law is a body of law that is applicable to only tribes and individual Native Americans. The area of federal Indian law is vast and touches on tribal governments and Native American rights, land, benefits and services. CILS’ services are limited to questions arising under federal Indian law which means a client’s issue must be one that is governed by federal law, not state law, and is unique to the client because they are Native American. This means that CILS does not represent Indian clients simply because they are Indian. The legal issue has to involve an Indian issue. For example, CILS does not represent Indian clients with legal problems that many non-Indians may have such as an eviction case, a family law case (custody, divorce, child support), termination from employment (unless there is discrimination), denial of public assistance benefits, personal injury case or a breach of contract case. There are Legal Services throughout the state that provides legal services to Indian and non-Indians in these type of non-federal law cases. CILS can assist with referring a caller to another Legal Service program near them or to other legal providers that may be able to assist.

Q. What is the difference between a federally recognized tribe and state recognized tribe?

A. A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Furthermore, federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. Most of today’s 573 federally recognized tribes received federal recognition status through treaties, acts of Congress, presidential executive orders or the Part 83 administrative recognition process.
State recognized tribes are Native American Indian Tribes, Nations, and Heritage Groups that have been recognized by a process established under assorted state laws for varying purposes. Many states have passed legislation to recognize some tribes and acknowledge the self-determination and continuity of historic ethnic groups. The majority of these groups are located in the Eastern US. There are no state recognized tribes in California.