By Tyler Heneghan.

Native American tribes, artists, designers, and spiritual healers have long been associated with the production of high-quality, unique, and effective designs, arts, medicines, and crops among a variety of other creations. Many of these creations were never intended for people outside of their originating cultures, yet millions of people don tribal designs, use Native American names,[1] stories, and songs, and patent tribal pharmaceutical formulas[2] and genetic seed genomes.[3] Thus, the cultural appropriators, not the originators, continue exploiting and profiting from Indigenous traditional cultural expressions, knowledge, and genetic resources with little legal remedies for tribal governments and individuals. In 2009, two-dozen “Navajo”-labeled products sold by Urban Outfitters illustrates the cultural appropriation, fetishization, and profiteering that began concurrently with the systematic disenfranchisement of Native Americans throughout the United States and continues today.[4]

In the U.S., the federal government holds a political government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes and their citizens.[5] Moreover, The U.S. federal government holds a trust responsibility towards federally recognized tribal governments and their citizens, and thus the U.S. has a legal obligation to protect tribes and their citizens—extending to tribal and individual citizens’ intellectual property issues.[6] So why is it that the protection of Indigenous intellectual property remains difficult to protect, and how might current legislation, declarations, and efforts protect these rights? Native Americans and their accompanying tribal governments remain engaged in finding ways to protect these intellectual properties from misuse, appropriation, and exploitation.

This opinion piece proposes ways in which current and proposed avenues can aid in the protection of Indigenous intellectual property, namely Indigenous trademarks and designs. Part one outlines the three phases of colonialization in Native America. Part two highlights the high-profile misappropriation of Indigenous intellectual property in the U.S.—the “Navajo”-labeled apparel sold by Urban Outfitters. Part three discusses and analyzes the potential avenues for the future protection of Indigenous intellectual property by looking at existing laws before concluding with a discussion on potential legislative pursuits.

The Three Phases of Colonialization in Native America

Walter R. Echo-Hawk summarized the ongoing issues faced in Indian Country when he stated:

The theft of culture is part of the one-way transfer of property from indigenous to non-indigenous hands seen in colonies and settler states around the world—it includes not only the taking of land, natural resources, [and] personal property, but even the heritage of indigenous peoples and their identities, plucking them as clean as a Safeway chicken.[7]

Securing adequate intellectual property protections for the cultural rights of Native American artists and tribal governments remain central to the recognition of their human rights within American society.[8] Without protecting Indigenous cultural rights, “the final phase of colonialism will proceed unabated.”[9]

Native America confronted three phases of colonialization since the first colonizers set foot in present-day North America. The first phase of colonialization encompasses the desecration and destruction of Native Americans through military force and the associated spread of disease from initial European contact through the conclusion of the “Indian Wars” in the late nineteenth century.[10] Throughout this initial phase, the U.S. employed military power to suppress Indigenous Nations who did not form political alliances with the U.S.[11] The U.S. made over 500 treaties with Indigenous Nations between 1778 and 1871, when Congress ended treaty-making with these nations.[12] The U.S. breached many of these treaties and failed to acknowledge the treaty-protected Native lands from colonial encroachers.[13]

The second phase of colonialization encompasses the U.S.’s appropriation of Native American land and Native cultural belongings for colonial encroachers under the pretext of “civilizing” Native Americans for their incorporation into American society as citizens.[14] The U.S. treated Indigenous Nations under wardship so that the “civilized” federal government sustained nearly absolute control over the “savage” tribes who lacked the “capacity to maintain rights to ownership of property or ability to contract for goods or services” as “civilized” Americans could.[15] The wardship relationship became known as the trustee relationship. The federal government, until the late 1930s, assigned Indian Agents to each reservation and restricted movement out of the reservation without consent.[16] This struggle reached both the tangible control over the Native peoples’ physical beings as well as the intangible control over their ability to preserve and engage in Native cultural and political identities.[17]

During the second phase, the U.S. attempted to eradicate cultural identity through forced assimilation practices such as federal boarding schools, federally supported Christianity conversion, and federal allotment, all of which attempted to bring Native Americans in line with Western values.[18] The federal government hid behind the forced assimilation pretext by advertising the programs as shifting Native American wards into U.S. citizens, with Congress enacting the Indian Citizenship Act of 1923 to grant American citizenship to all Native Americans.[19] The Act specified that Native Americans retained treaty and political rights since they remained citizens of federally recognized tribal governments.[20]

Although the federal government recognizes tribal governments as separate nations with the rights to self-govern, self-determination, possess the three branches of government, and exercise jurisdiction over their lands and citizens, the third wave of colonialization continues into today. The final phase hits at the underlying worries of the cultural appropriation of Indigenous intellectual property and exists in the subconscious mind of Native Americans.[21] This final phase causes Indigenous peoples to ask:

As collectives and as individuals, who do we think that “we” are and who do we think that “they” are? Have “we” become “them”? Do we mirror who “they” think that “we” are? Clearly, identity matters. But who decides the rules? And as we address the issue of Indigenous cultural rights, do we operate by the principles of just governance in a civil society? Or do we operate by the principles of war?[22]

The loss of identity through cultural harms becomes fast tracked when tribal governments and their citizens cannot protect their traditional cultural expressions, traditional knowledge, and traditional genetic resources. Many non-Indigenous peoples continue to misunderstand or remain blissfully ignorant on what cultural identity means to Indigenous peoples. The cases discussed in Part two highlights a recent instance of U.S. companies encroaching on Indigenous intellectual property before Part three turns to how current legal documents might be used to protect these rights.

Case Study on Indigenous Intellectual Property

The Western system of intellectual property law rewards the creative outputs of individuals through protecting their creations by granting them long and wide-ranging control over the use of their marks and patents. The individualistic and property-like regime of Western intellectual property law goes against traditional Native American cultural values. This division of legal ideals leads to the inadequate protection of Indigenous intellectual property in the U.S. and prevents tribes and tribal citizens from protecting their cultural customs from continued exploitation. The Navajo Nation v. Urban Outfitters, Inc. cases illustrate where an American company used the names and designs of a federally recognized tribe without first consulting with or gaining approval from the tribal government.[23]

“Navajo”-labelled apparel from Urban Outfitters

Products sold under the Navajo name are not new. In fact, the Navajo Nation (“Nation”) has sold “clothing accessories, blankets, jewelry, foods, tools, decorations, crafts, and retail services” under the Navajo name for more than 150 years.[24] By 1944, the Nation held eight trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and at the time of the district court case in 2013, the Nation held eighty-six registered trademarks under the “Navajo” name.[25] Beginning in March 2009, Urban Outfitters began selling two-dozen goods labeled and/or described as “Navajo” or “Navaho.”[26] Many Navajo tribal members brought light to the “inauthentic” and “knockoff” apparel and petitioned for the removal of the products from Urban Outfitter store fronts and its online store.[27]

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice presented Urban Outfitters with a cease and desist letter on October 12, 2011.[28] Urban Outfitters removed all “Navajo” and “Navaho” branding from their products shortly thereafter but not before making nearly $500 million in selling products brandishing the Nation’s name.[29] The Nation brought suit against Urban Outfitters on February 28, 2012.[30] Four years after the initial litigation, the District Court of New Mexico granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgement in part.[31] The court dismissed the Nation’s trademark dilution claims, holding that the Nation failed to show its “Navajo” mark was “famous” under the Trademark Dilution Revision Act (“TDRA”).[32]

Under the TDRA, a “famous” mark must obtain “widespread recognition by the general public” insofar as being a “household name.”[33] Although the Nation presented evidence of spending “over $3.8 million to promote the ‘Navajo’ name in . . . oil gas, gaming, publishing, and other economic developments . . . ,” the court held that this evidence failed to show the mark was a household-recognized name.[34] The court stated in dictum that even if the name obtained national recognition, the mark was not recognized within the “general consuming public.”[35] Furthermore, the court determined that the Nation limited its marketing to arts and crafts with sales predominately from jewelry and rugs.[36] Shortly after the partial summary judgement, the Nation and Urban Outfitters settled the trademark dispute.[37]

Addressing Limitations in Intellectual Property Law

Highlighted by Navajo I and Navajo II, Western intellectual property laws failed to protect tribal governments from the exploitation of Native marks. Without falling into the rabbit hole of the American intellectual property legal system, the major cruxes dividing the current intellectual property law and Native American cultural values are “what is worth protecting and how is it protected.”[38] The American system values individuals, commercialization, and tangible forms whereas Native Americans value the collective, culture, and intangible forms.[39] Thus, cultural value differences create a disconnect between the two systems leading to shortfalls in the protection of Indigenous intellectual property evident in both Navajo I and Navajo II.

These consistent failings lead many scholars, tribal governments, international government organizations, and the National Congress of American Indians to promote alternatives and supplements for the protection of Indigenous intellectual property. Current instruments to be discussed in the coming sections include: (a) the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and (b) the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act

Congress enacted the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (“IACA”) in 1935—with a 1990 amendment—and subsequently formed the Indian Arts and Crafts Board within the U.S. Department of the Interior to “prevent fraud in the Indian arts and crafts market and to preserve and foster traditional American Indian arts and crafts.”[40] The 1990 amendment grants authority to the Board “to assign trademarks of artistic genuineness and quality to individual Indians and/or tribes, to set standards for the use of these trademarks, to charge for licenses to use the marks, and to register the marks with the [USPTO] and assign them to Indians and tribes free of charge.”[41] IACA provides civil actions for tribal governments and American Indian arts and crafts organizations against anyone or any organization falsely advertising their goods as Native American-made as well as criminal sanctions for counterfeiting trademarks provided by the Board.[42] Although the federal trademark protection afforded via IACA extends to “Indian products” such as arts and crafts produced by federally recognized tribal members, scholars suggest that a broad reading could encompass more than handmade goods.[43] If a court expanded the interpretation of the “Indian products” beyond the arts and crafts, the term would include Native American seed genomes, traditional songs, cultural ideas and expressions, and many other forms of Indigenous intellectual property.[44]

The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) on September 13, 2007 with a vote of 143 in favor, 11 abstentions, and 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States).[45] Today, each of the four countries who voted against have changed their views and support UNDRIP.[46] General Assembly declarations are not binding treaties, but UNDRIP addresses Indigenous peoples’ human rights concerns—many of which were debated for twenty plus years prior to the 2007 adoption.[47] The overarching principles of UNDRIP mean to provide “the rights of indigenous peoples to live in dignity, to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their self-determined development, in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.”[48]

The articles that prove most useful for Indigenous intellectual property include articles 11,[49] 24,[50] and 31.[51] Article 11 incorporates the most important and discussed terminology of the entire Declaration—free, prior, and informed consent.[52] Article 24 addresses traditional medicines which fall under patent law not currently discussed in this paper but of massive importance as major pharmaceutical companies continue exploiting traditional medicinal formulas.[53] Article 31 also addresses medical patents but encompasses Indigenous intellectual property in their entirety.[54]

Of note, Article 31(2) states that “[i]n conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.”[55] When read with Article 11’s “States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms . . . developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their . . . intellectual . . . property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs,” the best argument for the creation of legislation protecting Indigenous intellectual property is made.[56] The federal government would need to incorporate tribal governments in the discussion of developing a legal regime capable of protecting Indigenous intellectual property. As previously noted, U.N. declarations are not legally binding upon supporting States, instead highlighting principles and encouraging State commitment towards incorporating those principles into federal legislation.[57] UNDRIP provides activists, NGOs, and tribal governments with an effective tool for the continued pursuit of heightened Indigenous intellectual property protections.[58]

A Look Towards the Future

In 2000, the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) began discussions for protecting traditional cultural expressions, traditional knowledge, and genetic resources.[59] This year’s WIPO session includes a technical review of WIPO’s draft instruments presented by James Anaya, discussing the importance of incorporating UNDRIP language.[60] Indigenous intellectual property legal experts like Rebecca Tsosie point to short-term and long-term goals.[61] In the short-term, continued exposure of these ongoing intellectual property struggles further pushes legislators to address the issues and invite tribal governments and legal experts to the table.[62] The long-term goals occur once everyone takes their seat at the table. First, legislators must incorporate the principles in UNDRIP by allowing Native Americans the ability to self-determine their intellectual property rights. Second, legislators must recognize the distinction in how Native Americans view their cultural expressions and traditional knowledge intellectual properties—they are collective resources belonging to the tribal nations, without any single individual having the ability to give away those rights.[63]

The current American trademark laws align with Western values of individual expressions, commercialization on a global scale, and the protection of tangible properties. This conflicts with the protection of many Indigenous intellectual properties which are not individually owned properties but collective expressions manifesting in both tangible and intangible forms. Trademark litigation such as the fake Navajo apparel sold by Urban Outfitters continues to highlight these disparities. Recent litigation from Navajo I and II suggest that courts remain hesitant to broaden the interpretation of “Indian products” beyond the arts and crafts. Thus, UNDRIP provides that extra nudge towards creating the table and filling seats in the protection of Indigenous intellectual property.


  1. Antonia C. Novello, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor Beverage: The Public Outcry to Save the Image of a Native American Hero, 38 S.D. L. Rev. 14, 14 (1993).
  2. Dalindyebo Bafana Shabalala, Intellectual Property, Traditional Knowledge, and Traditional Cultural Expressions in Native American Tribal Codes 51 Akron L. Rev. 1126, 1126-28 (2018).
  3. See Keith Aoki, Neocolonialism, Anticommons Property, and Biopiracy in the (Not-So-Brave) New World Order of International Intellectual Property Protection, 6 Ind. J. Global Legal Stud. 11, 47 (1998) (“[I]nternational conventions [are] granting ‘plant breeder’s rights allowing commercial plant breeders to use traditional indigenous varieties of seeds, and ‘improve’ them via minor genetic alterations and then receive patents in the varieties, eventually selling them back to the communities that produced them initially.’”).
  4. See Kathryn Moynihan, How Navajo Nation v. Urban Outfitters Illustrates the Failure of Intellectual Property Law to Protect Native American Cultural Property, 19 Rutgers Race & L. Rev. 51, 64 (2018). See also The Navajo Nation’s Case Against Urban Outfitters Just Took a Hit, Yahoo! News (May 20, 2016) (highlighting images of appropriated products sold by Urban Outfitters).
  5. See Robert J. Miller, American Indian and Tribal Intellectual Property Rights, 13 Tul. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 179, 179 (2010) (citing Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-454, 108 Stat 4791 (1994); 25 U.S.C. § 479a note (2006); Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 554 n.24 (1974) (stating that the federal/tribal relationship “is political rather than racial in nature.”).
  6. Id. at 179-80 (citing United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 224 (1983) (describing the federal government’s fiduciary responsibility towards American Indians); Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1, 10 (1831) (asserting that tribes are considered “domestic dependent nations” and “[t]heir relation to the United States resemble that of a ward to his guardian”); Robert J. Miller, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny 165-66 (2006)).
  7. Rebecca Tsosie, Intellectual Property, Just Governance or Just War?: Native Artists, Cultural Production, and the Challenge of “Super-Diversity”, 6 Cybaris 56, 58 (2017) (quoting Walter R. Echo-Hawk, In The Light Of Justice: The Rise Of Human Rights In Native America And The U.N. Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples 198 (2013)).
  8. Id. at 61 (citing Echo-Hawk, supra note 7 at 198).
  9. Id. at 62.
  10. Id. at 62 (citing Carole Goldberg, Rebecca Tsosie, Kevin Washburn & Elizabeth Washburn, American Indian Law: Native Nations and the Federal System 1-121 (6th ed. 2010)).
  11. Id. at 62 (citing Goldberg et al., supra note 10 at 14-20).
  12. Id. at 62 (citing Goldberg et al., supra note 10 at 4).
  13. Id. at 63 (citing Goldberg et al., supra note 10 at 15-16).
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id.
  17. Id.
  18. Rebecca Tsosie, Reclaiming Native Stories: An Essay on Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Rights, 34 Ariz. State L.J. 299, 317-32 (2002).
  19. Id. See Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, ch. 233, 43 Stat. 253 (1924) (codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1401(b) (2020)).
  20. Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, ch. 233.
  21. Tsosie, supra note 7 at 65.
  22. Id.
  23. See Navajo Nation v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., 918 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 2013) [hereinafter Navajo I]; Navajo Nation v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., No. 12-195 BB/LAM, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63599 (D.N.M. May 13, 2016) [hereinafter Navajo II].
  24. Navajo I, 918 F. Supp. 2d at 1249.
  25. Navajo I, 916 F. Supp. 2d at 1249; Navajo II, 2016 U.S. Dist. at *8.
  26. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 64 (citing Christina Ng, Urban Outfitters Under Fire for ‘Navajo’ Collection, ABC News (Oct. 12, 2011),
  27. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 64 (citing ICTMN Staff, An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day, Indian Country Today Media Network (Oct. 10, 2011); Tiffanie Wilson, Remove the “Navajo” Collection from Stores!, Change.Org.
  28. Navajo I, 918 F. Supp. 2d. at 1250. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 64-65.
  29. Navajo I, 918 F. Supp. 2d. at 1250. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  30. Navajo I, 918 F. Supp. 2d. at 1249-50. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  31. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *14. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  32. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *10-11. See 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)(1); Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  33. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *10. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  34. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *10-11, *13. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 65.
  35. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *11-12. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 66.
  36. Navajo II, 2016 US. Dist. at *11-12. See Moynihan, supra note 4 at 66.
  37. See David Schwartz, Navajo Nation Settles Trademark Suit Against Urban Outfitters, Reuters (Nov. 18, 2016, 6:15PM).
  38. Moynihan, supra note 4 at 66. See Shabalala, supra note 1 at 1133-34.
  39. Moynihan, supra note 4 at 66. See Shabalala, supra note 1 at 1133-34.
  40. 137 Cong. Rec. § 18150 (1990). See Shabalala, supra note 1 at 1133-34; Miller, supra note 5 at 180.
  41. Miller, supra note 5 at 180 (citing Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-644, 104 Stat 4662 (1990)).
  42. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1158-1159 (2020); 25 U.S.C. § 305 (2020); Miller, supra note 5 at 180.
  43. 25 C.F.R. §§ 301, 304, 307, 309-310 (2009); Miller, supra note 5 at 180. See John T. Cross, Justifying Property Rights in Native American Traditional Knowledge, 15 Tex. Wesleyan L. Rev. 257, 289-90 (2009); Richard A. Guest, Comment, Intellectual Property Rights and Native American Tribes, 20 Am. Indian L. Rev. 111, 136 (1996).
  44. Guest, supra 43 at 136. See Cross, supra note 43 at 289-90.
  45. Stefania Errico, The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is Adopted: An Overview, 7 Human Rights L. Rev. 756 (2007).
  46. See generally Carolyn Bennett, Minister; Crown-Indigenous Relations and N. Affairs (Can.), Speech at the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, N.Y. (May 10, 2016) Jenny Macklin, Minister, Dep’t of Families, Hous., Cmty. Servs. & Indigenous Affairs (Austl.), Statement on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Parliament House (Mar. 4, 2009); Simon Power, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice (N.Z.), Speech on U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Government Support at the Parliament House (Apr. 20, 2010); Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of State, Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Jan. 12, 2011) (on file with author).
  47. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Frequently Asked Questions, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (last visited on Dec. 8, 2020) [hereinafter UNDRIP: FAQs]. See generally G.A. Res. 61/295, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Sept. 13, 2007) [hereinafter UNDRIP].
  48. UNDRIP: FAQs, supra note 47. See generally UNDRIP, supra note 47.
  49. Article 11 states: 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practi[c]e and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. 2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 11.
  50. Article 24 states:   1. Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services. 2. Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of this right. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 24.
  51. Article 31 states: 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. 2. In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 31.
  52. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 11.
  53. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 24.
  54. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 31.
  55. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 31(2).
  56. UNDRIP, supra note 47, art. 11.
  57. UNDRIP: FAQs, supra note 47.
  58. UNDRIP: FAQs, supra note 47. Cultural Survival, Survival International, Assembly of First Nations, and the National Congress of American Indians continuously employ language from UNDRIP.
  59. Prof. Rebecca Tsosie: Current Issues in Intellectual Property Rights to Cultural Resources, Native American Rights Fund (June 25, 2017), [hereinafter Prof. Rebecca Tsosie].
  60. James Anaya, Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, World Intellectual Property Organization [WIPO] (2021).
  61. Prof. Rebecca Tsosie, supra note 59.
  62. Id.
  63. Id.

About the Author: Tyler Heneghan was a Spring 2021 Legal Intern at the Center for Art Law. He is a Registered Professional Archaeologist with a J.D. from Boston University School of Law and incoming Ph.D. Student in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies at Rutgers University. Tyler served as the editor-in-chief of the Boston University International Law Journal and successfully convinced school administration to offer American Indian Law and Art Law for students at BU School of Law.