How We Are
Driving Change

Our Major Initiatives

Every contribution strengthens the weave of our work,
and helps us help our communities even more.

CILS protects the voting rights of California Native Americans. Voting is a powerful tool for collective political influence, and CILS encourages all Native Americans to register and participate in both General and Primary Elections. Our downloadable Voter’s Guide includes essential information such as election dates, registration details, and the Voters’ Bill of Rights

Voters’ Guide

Homeless Prevention


We provide free housing legal services to any income-qualified individual in the Eastern Sierra, and income-qualified Urban Indians living in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Los Angeles regions.

This project aims to unravel the legal and historical complexities of water rights in California in order to empower Tribes and allottees with the knowledge and strategies necessary to protect this critical resource for generations.

Water Study Project

Military Discharge
Upgrade Project

Our newest statewide initiative, the Military Discharge Upgrade Project, is focused on upgrading the discharge statuses of Native Veterans. This allows us to provide free help to qualifying Native Veterans who have previously applied for discharge upgrades and have been denied.

Priority Initiatives Throughout Our Work

Our work at CILS weaves through Indian Country, advancing critical issues
that impact American Indians & Alaska Natives across the nation.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & People

Recent statistics show that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native adults (83 percent) have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. CILS provides Domestic Violence Protection & Support at no cost, regardless of income to serve victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Our attorneys and legal advocates are experienced and trained in providing assistance victims and survivors and understanding their legal options. Our attorneys aid with safety planning, crisis intervention, obtaining restraining orders, divorce, child custody, and other civil matters related to domestic abuse or violence. In addition to safety planning and crisis intervention, our legal advocates provide referrals to our clients for non-legal supportive services in the community in order to provide the victim complete “wrap-around” services. Currently, our DV programs are only available to provide services to clients living in our Escondido and Eureka service areas. CILS actively works to expand these programs to be statewide to provide better support to those affected by the MMIWP crisis.


CILS uses unrestricted funding generated through our tribal contract work to focus on legislative efforts that impact tribal communities statewide. We utilize our wide range of legal expertise to draft bill language and navigate the complex legislative processes to support enactment of laws that will make lasting change and better tribal communities. Working with our Board of Trustees, we have recently formed a Legislative Committee to provide guidance and direction for potential legislative actions CILS will sponsor and support. Together, we will work to ensure CILS is aligned with tribal community priorities and make the greatest impact possible. In addition to legislation, we are seeking to educate the Legislature on tribal sovereign and distinct characteristics of trust land (tribal and individual), tribal governments, and unique political status within the state.

Land Back (Co-management)

Preserving and expanding Indian land ownership and stewardship in California has been of the upmost importance for CILS since our founding. In the 1980s, CILS successfully litigated Hardwick v. United States, which led to 17 “terminated” California tribes being restored to their federally recognized status. Following this, a pathway was created to restore trust lands for certain tribal members.

Today, CILS continues to actively work on Land Back initiatives in a variety of ways. Our current work involves guiding tribes on entering co-management agreements with federal and state agencies for accessing lands for cultural resource protection or traditional uses. For example, the signing of a MOA for hunting on BLM land. and representation of a consortium of tribes in their successful effort to return a unique and special parcel of private land in the Owens Valley to indigenous ownership and stewardship.

Protect ICWA

CILS protects and defends the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) on a statewide and federal level. CILS defends the tribal right of intervention in cases that fall under ICWA. We strive to amplify the tribes’ voice in state court, guide them through lengthy and complex dependency proceedings, and advise them of their legal rights and options at each stage of the case. CILS empowers tribes to fully participate in state court cases involving their member children, which results in better outcomes for tribes and tribal families. We participate in California State Department of Social Services and Office of Tribal Affairs meetings and consultations to provide feedback on state initiatives, including the recent Tribal Dependency Representation Program and the ICWA State Plan.