The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) provides legal representation and technical assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide - a constituency that often lacks access to the justice system. NARF focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that national and state governments live up to their legal obligations. NARF's five priorities are preserving tribal existence, protecting tribal natural resources, promoting Native American human rights, holding governments accountable, and developing and educating on Indian law.
Over the past four decades Indian law has dramatically changed. It has become a recognized specialty with a well documented body of statues and case law. In the 1970's and the early 1980's, courts were generally receptive to Indian rights cases. However, since the mid to late 1980's, an increasingly conservative federal bench has made Indian rights cases more difficult to win. Combined with the huge cost of litigation - in time and in money - this means NARF and its Indian clients are always attuned to opportunities for negotiation, consensus, and settlement.
The Native American Rights Fund is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado with branch offices in Washington, D.C. and Anchorage, Alaska.
NARF is governed by a volunteer board of directors composed of thirteen Native Americans from different tribes throughout the country with a variety of expertises in Indian matters. A staff of twelve attorneys handles about fifty major cases at any given time, with most of the cases taking several years to resolve. Cases are accepted on the basis of their breadth and potential importance in setting precedents and establishing important principles of Indian law.
How NARF Has Helped
Throughout its history, NARF has impacted tens of thousands of Indian people in its work for more than 250 tribes. Some examples of the results include
-Protecting and establishing the inherent sovereignty of tribes
-Obtaining official tribal recognition for numerous Indian tribes
-Helping tribes continue their ancient traditions, by protecting their rights to hunt, fish and use the water on their lands
-Helping to uphold Native American religious freedom
-Assuring the return of remains and burial goods from museums and historical societies for proper and dignified re-burial
-Protecting voting rights of Native Americans
The complexity, depth, and expansion of services and businesses in Indian country have grown to new levels in modern-day time. With this growth, also comes new and increased controversy over a myriad of issues - many that lead to legal battles. Today the need for NARF to serve those who are unable to afford legal counsel has never been greater. It has become increasingly clear in the growth in organizations that challenge the sovereign right of Indian Tribes to self-govern. - Jerry Danforth