Washington State Supreme Court holds that tribes are not indispensable parties in challenge to state-tribal fuel tax compacts

 In a 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court held that tribes are not indispensable parties in a lawsuit against Washington State challenging the constitutionality of disbursements the State gives to Indian tribes under fuel tax compacts.  

The suit followed a 2007 Washington State legislative amendment that authorized the governor to enter into agreements with tribes within the state regarding fuel taxes at tribal gas stations.  The legislation permitted the agreements to "provide mutually agreeable means to address any tribal immunities or any preemption of the state motor vehicle fuel tax."  Washington State entered into fuel tax compacts with various tribes in which the tribes agreed to comply with certain statutory requirements in exchange for a refund of 75% of the state fuel taxes on fuel purchased by the tribes.

The plaintiff, Automotive United Trades Organization, challenged the compacts as unconstitutional, claiming that they gave tribal retailers an unfair competitive advantage and enabled tribes to undercut non-tribal retailers' fuel prices.  The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to join the tribes as indispensable parties.  The Washington State Supreme Court granted direct review on the question of whether the tribes must be joined.

The majority found that although the tribes are "necessary" parties to the suit because the suit imperiled their interest in receiving payments under the compacts, they are not "indispensable."  Although the court recognized that tribes may be significantly prejudiced if a judgment were issued in their absence, the majority held that "in the circumstances of this case," the public interest in resolving the issue of whether the government acted unconstitutionally outweighed the prejudice to the tribes.  Therefore, the case could proceed without the tribes.

The majority opinion is available here, and the dissent is available here.

Hawaii Moves Towards Native Recognition, Doubts Remain

Hawaii's Govenor Neil Abercrombie has signed a bill (SB 1520) which formally recognizes Native Hawaiians as "the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population" and establishes a Native Hawaiian Roll Call Commission. The Commission will establish and make public a list of Native Hawaiians. These steps could facilitate the establishment of native governance and advance national legislation which concerns the community, particulary the long and controversially debated Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, know as the Akaka Bill after its champion Daniel Akaka (D-HI). The Akaka Bill would recognize the sovereignty of Native Hawaiians and would establish a relationship with the Federal Government, similar to that of other treatied tribes. It would also help determine the status of lands held in trust by the U.S. Government which formerly belonged to the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Both the Akaka Bill and SB 1520 face strong opposition from different quarters, including from native groups who do not believe their situation to be equivalent to that of continental tribes. Native activists and academics like J Kēhaulani Kauanui argue that the bill does not go far enough in acknowleding inherent native sovereignty and amounts to legitimizing the aggressive U.S. annexation of the archipelago in 1898. Although some protesters carried signs reading "We are not a tribe", the legal parallels between Hawaii's steps and concerns in Indian Country will no doubt affect the hundreds of tribes whose existence is still not federally recognized.

The full text of SB 1520 is HERE

Robert Anderson Named Oneida Nation Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard

Robert Anderson, associate professor of law at the University of Washington and Director of the University’s Native American Law Center, will be the Oneida Nation Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School for the next five years.

“I am delighted that Bob has accepted our invitation,” said Dean Martha Minow. “He will bring so much to HLS: his strong knowledge of the law, his extensive and significant practice experience both in government and in the private sector, and his ability to create and run the Native American Law Center at the UW, which includes a leading clinical component.”

Nationally renowned for his expertise in Native American legal issues and for his excellence in teaching, Anderson has taught federal Indian law, advanced courses and seminars in Indian law, public land law, property law, and water law at the University of Washington since 2001. He will retain his position at the University of Washington while teaching at Harvard.

“It’s a tremendous honor for me to join the Harvard law faculty as a visiting professor,” said Anderson. “I am most pleased that Harvard Law School recognizes the importance of the study of federal Indian law and I look forward to being part of this great university.”

Anderson is a co-author and a member of the Executive Editorial Board of Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, as well as a new casebook in the field, American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary. He has published a number of law review articles in the field, including most recently, a forthcoming article on water rights in the California Law Review; “Alaska Native Rights, Statehood and Unfinished Business,” 43 Tulsa Law Review 17 (2007); “Indian Water Rights and the Federal Trust Responsibility,” 46 Natural Resources Law Journal 399 (2006); and “Indian Water Rights: Litigation and Settlements,” 42 Tulsa Law Review 23 (2006).

An enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Anderson serves as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and as an appellate judge in the Northwest Intertribal Court of Appeals. He holds a B.A. from Bemidji State University and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Ancient Texas Tribe Struggles for Federal Recognition

Texas Public Radio has published an article and podcast detailing the work of Coahuiltecan people near San Antonio to become a federally-recognized Tribe. Coahuiltecans have lived in the region for 10,000 years, but have yet to hear any positive progress on the recognition application they filed with the U.S. thirteen years ago.

Greg Guedel, Foster Pepper Native American Group Chair and Chair of the ABA's Native American Concerns Committee, is interviewed in the podcast and discusses the long and difficult bureaucratic process Tribes face when seeking federal recognition.

Listen and/or read about it HERE.

Survey Launched For New Native American Law Journal

The Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University School of Law is in the process of starting an online American Indian Law Journal. This project is designed to enhance students' legal education by providing them with an opportunity to develop and perfect their research, writing and analysis skills. The journal will consist of a mixture of professors’, practitioners’ and students' legal analysis and commentary on current issues and policy within the American Indian legal practice. The online journal will serve as a great resource for students and professionals who have an interest in contemporary American Indian legal issues.

In order to gauge interest in the online journal, the Center has compiled 7 questions which are listed HERE.  Please take a moment to click on the link and respond to the survey, as your answers will have a big impact in the development of this much-needed legal resource.

ABA Appoints Foster Pepper's Greg Guedel National Chair for Native American Concerns

Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities 
     COMMITTEE ON NATIVE AMERICAN CONCERNS

Greg GuedelThe American Bar Association has appointed Greg Guedel, Chair of Foster Pepper’s Native American Legal Services Group, as Chair of the ABA’s national Native American Concerns Committee. The Committee works to harness the vast resources of the ABA to guide the development of federal law in support of Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, and furthers the federal trust responsibility and government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the United States. Committee members educate elected officials, the federal judiciary, and legal professionals on pressing issues of law and policy that affect Native Americans throughout the country.

“The coming decade will present both significant challenges and unprecedented opportunity for Native American communities,” Greg said. “The Native American Concerns Committee will work closely with Tribes and their partners to enhance social justice, health, economic development, and cultural preservation for all Native Americans.”

For 2010-11, Greg has set an ambitious agenda for the Committee, including:

  • Creating a new electronic communications infrastructure to connect the Committee with every federally-recognized Tribe in the United States.
  • Conducting global education webinars on current legal developments, featuring internationally-recognized experts on Indigenous rights issues.
  • Partnering with national Native advocacy organizations to promote legal and legislative initiatives furthering Tribal political, social, and economic priorities.
  • Working with law schools to develop the next generation of Native legal advocates, and connecting students with Tribes and supporting organizations to staff current legal programs.

The website for the ABA’s Native American Concerns Committee can be accessed HERE.
For more information on Foster Pepper’s Native American Legal Services Group, click HERE.

Contact Greg Guedel (206.447.8931 or guedw@foster.com) for more information.

 

Tribal Law And Order Act Set To Become Federal Law

The long-awaited amendments to the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 have been completed and passed by both the House and Senate, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. The new law enacts numerous changes to the rules, process, and funding for the administration of justice in Tribal communities, and it specifically --

Increases the maximum authorized criminal sentence in a Tribal Court to three years, if the defendant has or is provided an attorney and other federal criminal procedure rules are followed.

Replaces the Division of Law Enforcement Services in the Department of the Interior with the Office of Justice Services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and sets forth duties including - (1) communicating with tribal leaders, tribal community and victims' advocates, trial justice officials, and residents of Indian land on a regular basis regarding public safety and justice concerns; (2) providing technical assistance and training to tribal law enforcement officials for gaining access to crime information databases; (3) collecting, analyzing, and reporting data on crimes in Indian country on an annual basis; (4) sharing with the Department of Justice crime data received from tribal law enforcement agencies on a tribe-by-tribe basis; and (5) submitting to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs a spending report on tribal public safety and justice programs and a report on technical assistance and training provided to tribal law enforcement and corrections agencies.

Directs the Secretary of the Interior to submit to Congress a long-term plan to address incarceration in Indian country.

Authorizes BIA law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests in Indian country based on probable cause for misdemeanor offenses involving controlled substances, firearms, assaults, or liquor trafficking.

Expands requirements for reporting by federal law enforcement officers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and United States Attorneys to Indian tribes on decisions not to investigate or prosecute alleged violations of federal criminal law in Indian country.

Requires the Attorney General to submit annual reports to Congress on investigations and prosecutions in Indian country that were terminated or declined.

Authorizes the Attorney General to appoint tribal prosecutors and other qualified attorneys to assist in prosecuting federal crimes committed in Indian country. Requires each United States Attorney whose district includes Indian country to appoint at least one assistant United States Attorney to serve as a tribal liaison for specified purposes, including coordinating the prosecution of federal crimes that occur in Indian country, combating child abuse and domestic and sexual violence against Indians, and providing technical assistance and training on evidence gathering techniques.

Establishes in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys the position of Native American Issues Coordinator, to coordinate with United States Attorneys in prosecuting crimes in Indian country.

Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to: (1) establish a prescription drug monitoring program at the health care facilities of the Indian Health Service, tribal health care facilities, and urban Indian health care facilities; and (2) report to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on such program.

Directs the Attorney General, in conjunction with the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of the Interior, to: (1) conduct an assessment of the capacity of federal and tribal agencies to carry out data collection and analysis relating to prescription drug abuse in Indian communities; (2) provide training to Indian health care providers and other Indian tribal officials to promote awareness and prevention of such abuse and strategies for improving agency responses to addressing it; and (3) report to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on prescription drug abuse prevention activities.

National Native American Bar Association Issues Statement On Kagan Nomination To Supreme Court

May 11, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the United State Supreme Court. We are pleased you chose a woman, and clearly General Kagan is a well qualified jurist.
NNABA does not currently have a position on General Kagan’s nomination. We are not yet familiar with her experience with Tribal nations or Federal Indian law. However, we very much look forward to hearing from General Kagan about her views on the Constitutional status of Tribes and the protection of Native American rights. We would like to extend an invitation for General Kagan to meet with NNABA and invite her to Indian Country to visit one of our Nations, to visit our Tribal courts, and meet with our elected Tribal leaders.

Importance of Working Knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Due to the unique Constitutional status of Native American Tribes, a disproportionate percentage of cases before the Supreme Court deal with Tribes and Indian law issues. In addition, federal court decisions often disproportionately affect Natives. Most Indian reservation lands continue to be under “federal trust” and federal criminal law applies in conjunction with tribal law. The Supreme Court oversees this relationship with Tribes and the Federal treaty and trust responsibility to Tribal citizens. There are over 560 federally-recognized Tribes in the United States, located in 35 out of the 50 states.

No Native American Supreme Court Justice, Federal Judge, Or Supreme Court Clerk.

A Native American has never served on the Supreme Court, there is not currently a Native on the federal bench and to the best our knowledge there have been almost no Native American Supreme Court clerks.

NNABA continues to be hopeful that your administration will nominate a Native to the federal bench, and we appreciate any efforts to ensure that all of your federal nominees have a strong working knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Respectfully,

Lael Echo-Hawk
President, National Native American Bar Association

Obama Asked To Appoint Native American Supreme Court Justice

Citing the fact that there is not a single Native American judge in any of the 866 federal judicial positions in the United States, the National Native American Bar Association has sent a letter to President Obama asking him to appoint a Native American to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court.  A full copy of the letter can be read HERE.

9th Circuit's Maggi Decision - You're Only An "Indian" If The US Government Says So

The latest foray by federal courts into the anachronistic (and often bizarre) legal analysis of who qualifies as an “Indian” comes from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in its decision in the case of United States v. Maggi. The bottom line: unless you are a member of a federally-recognized Tribe, you are not an “Indian” under federal law.

As with most of the cases that analyze the issue of who is an “Indian”, the Maggi case arises from a dispute over whether a federal court or Tribal court has jurisdiction over a person accused of committing a crime on Tribal lands. Under current federal law, Tribal courts can only hold jurisdiction over people who qualify as “Indian”.  Tribes are not allowed to exercise jurisdiction over people who are not considered “Indian” by the federal government -- making Tribal courts the last legal venue in the US where race determines access to justice.

In determining that the defendants in the Maggi case were not “Indian” and therefore not subject to Tribal court jurisdiction despite committing crimes on Tribal land, the 9th Circuit quoted from LaPier v. McCormick, 986 F.2d 303 (9th Cir. 1993):

“Is the Indian group with which (a person) claims affiliation a federally recognized Indian tribe? If the answer is no, the inquiry ends. A defendant whose only claim of membership or affiliation is with an Indian group that is not a federally acknowledged Indian tribe cannot be an Indian for criminal jurisdiction purposes.”

The extreme difficulty for unrecognized Tribes to obtain federal recognition is well known – it can take decades just to receive a “no” from the federal government. The Maggi decision reinforces the courts’ brutal concept that unless you’re a member of a federally recognized Tribe, not only are you unable to obtain sovereign rights through your Tribe – you’re not even considered an “Indian”.
 

This Week: Tribal Law Conference At Gonzaga University

This Thursday, March 18, 2010 Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington will be the site for a far-ranging conference on legal issues of importance to Tribal communities and their advocates. Hosted by the Indian Law Section of the Spokane County Bar Association, the conference features nationally-recognized experts in numerous areas of law that are critical to Tribes. The conference itinerary includes:

The Indian Child Welfare Act – Tribal and State Perspectives (Identifying an Indian Child; Tribal staffing of ICW cases; domicile; utilizing Indian Child Welfare experts)

Tribal Court Practice; Inter-Jurisdictional Issues Arising in Tribal Courts (Tribal Court practice overview; abstention, exhaustion, removal; inter-jurisdictional issues)

Labor and Employment Law Issues for Tribes (FMLA; ADA; Pension Protection Act; and Tribal Considerations in drafting Employee Policies and Procedures)

Issues Regarding Multi-Jurisdictional Regulatory Oversight

Ethical Issues Arising in Tribal and State Multi-Jurisdictional Practice of Law

Registration information is available HERE.
 

Waiting Game: Tribal Law And Order Act In Senate Limbo

 

While crime continues to be a blight on Native lands, The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 (S.797) is currently awaiting action in the United States Senate. This bill was considered in committee, which has recommended it be considered by the Senate as a whole. Although it has been placed on a calendar of business, the order in which legislation is considered and voted on is determined by the majority party leadership, which is currently led by Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada. In the midst of intensive debate regarding health care reform, the chances for the Act to become law are unclear.

The Act would amend the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act to make a variety of changes to increase Tribes' law enforcement powers, and increase federal powers and responsibilities regarding crimes on Native land. The Act’s provisions include:

(1) Allowing federal officials, with the consent of the Tribe, to investigate offenses against Tribal criminal laws;

(2) Providing technical assistance and training to Tribal law enforcement officials regarding use of the National Criminal Information Center database;

(3) Requiring federal and local officials, when they decline to investigate crimes on Native land, to report to Native officials and requiring such officials, when they decline to prosecute, to turn over evidence to Native officials;

(4) Establishing in the criminal division of the Department of Justice an Office of Indian Country Crime to develop, enforce, and administer federal criminal laws in Tribal territories;

(5) Authorizing, at the request of a Tribe, concurrent federal-Tribal jurisdiction;

(6) Authorizing grants to state, Tribal, and local governments that enter into cooperative agreements, including agreements relating to mutual aid, hot pursuit of suspects, and cross-deputization;

(7) Requiring the Attorney General to allow Tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement agencies to directly access and enter information into federal criminal information databases (under current law, such access is limited); and

(8) Increasing the criminal sentences Tribal courts may impose.

The bill is supported by numerous agencies including the National Congress of American Indians, National American Indian Court Judges Association, National Indian Gaming Association, and Amnesty International. No organizations have registered a formal objection to the legislation.
 

New Treatise Explores Navajo Common Law And Court System

The Navajo Nation court system is the largest and most established Tribal legal system in the United States. Since the landmark 1959 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Lee that affirmed Tribal court authority over reservation-based claims, the Navajo Nation has been at the vanguard of a far-reaching, transformative jurisprudential movement among Indian tribes in North America and indigenous peoples around the world to retrieve and use traditional values to address contemporary legal issues.

In the new book published by the University of MinesotaNavajo Courts and Navajo Common Law, Justice Raymond D. Austin considers the history and implications of how the Navajo Nation courts apply foundational Navajo doctrines to modern legal issues. He explains key Navajo foundational concepts like Hózhó (harmony), K’é (peacefulness and solidarity), and K’éí (kinship) both within the Navajo cultural context and, using the case method of legal analysis, as they are adapted and applied by Navajo judges in virtually every important area of legal life in the tribe.

In addition to detailed case studies, Justice Austin provides a broad view of tribal law, documenting the development of tribal courts as important institutions of indigenous self-governance and outlining how other indigenous peoples, both in North America and elsewhere around the world, can draw on traditional precepts to achieve self-determination and self-government, solve community problems, and control their own futures.

Justice Austin, always a trailblazer, is one of the main architects of Navajo common law. Now he has given us a comprehensive explanation of his nation’s common law in all its power, fairness, and beauty. This book should be read by people the world over who believe in searching out the authenticity of law and society in its truest and most profound meanings.”  Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations.

Justice Austin is the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program’s Distinguished Jurist in Residence at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. A member of the Arizona and Utah state bars and the Navajo Nation Bar Association, he served on the Navajo Nation Supreme Court from 1985 to 2001. Justice Austin is Diné from the Navajo Nation.
 

400 Years Later, A Church Apologizes For Abusing Native Americans

West End Collegiate Church, New York City

On Native American Heritage Day, the Collegiate Church officially apologized for massacring and displacing Native Americans 400 years ago.

"We consumed your resources, dehumanized your people, and disregarded your culture, along with your dreams, hopes, and great love for this land," the Reverend Robert Chase told members of the Lenape Tribe. "With pain, we the Collegiate Church, remember our part in these events."

The apology was offered in front of the Museum of the American Indian in lower Manhattan, where Dutch colonizers took up residence in Native lands near what is now Wall Street. The Collegiate Church was a fundamental part of spiritual life in the new colony, whose members subsequently expanded their territorial control and subdued the Native population by force.

During the ceremony Native music was featured, children exchanged gifts, and Reverend Chase embraced Ronald Holloway, Chairman of the Sand Hill Band of Lenape. "After 400 years, when someone says 'I'm sorry,' you say, 'Really?' " Holloway said. "There was some kind of uneasiness. But then you've got to accept someone's sincere apology; they said, 'We did it.' We ran you off, we killed you.'

The church plans to sponsor educational activities and exhibits to teach children history - including Native views on preserving the purity of the land taken over by the Dutch colonists.
 

40th Anniversary of Native American Occupation of Alcatraz

(Britannica.com)

November marks 40 years since Native American activists seized the former federal island penitentiary of Alcatraz and used it to raise the national consciousness on issues facing Native communities.

In November of 1969, Richard Oakes led a landing party named “Indians of All Tribes” onto boats and took up residence on Alcatraz. The prison had been closed six years earlier and was considered surplus property by the federal government. Citing treaty language from the 19th Century that indicated the US government’s intent to set aside such properties for Native peoples, the group occupied the island “to focus attention on broken treaties, broken promises and termination of tribal areas," says Professor Troy Johnson, chairman of the American Indian studies program at California State University. The U.S. 16 years earlier had begun a policy of terminating Indian reservations and relocating the inhabitants to urban areas.

Adam Fortunate Eagle released a public declaration of the group's intentions. To the amusement of local Bay Area residents and the chagrin of federal authorities, he recounted European exploitation over the centuries, and stated that the Native group claimed Alcatraz by “right of discovery” and that they would pay for the island with $24 worth of goods – equal to the amount paid by the Dutch to acquire Manhattan Island from Native peoples in 1626.

At the height of the occupation, 400 Native Americans were in residence on Alcatraz, receiving regular news coverage and logistical assistance from many quarters. In 1971, authorities peacefully ended the occupation after 19 months by going in when the group was at its smallest. President Nixon ended the U.S. tribal termination policy in June 1970, while they still were on the island. Fortunate Eagle says the occupation was the most significant event in Native American history since the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn: "It brought the Indian issues to the forefront of the public awareness."

War On Drugs Opens New Front: Tribal Lands

Washington State Patrol Officers Seize Marijuana On Reservation

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mexican drug gangs are attempting to increase profits and eliminate clashes with border police by growing more marijuana inside the United States – and specifically in remote areas of Native American reservations. In Washington state alone, the number of marijuana plants seized on Tribal lands has increased by a factor of 10 since 2006.

Drug growers typically seek to operate in geographically remote areas that are rarely inspected by law enforcement. In past years, America’s large National Parks were a prime growing area until federal enforcement was stepped up to curtail the practice. Isolation and lack of law enforcement funding has now placed many Tribal territories on the list of desired drug growing locations. For example, the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington state encompasses 2,200 square miles but is patrolled by only 19 Tribal police officers. Many reservations have thousands of acres of uninhabited land that usually go unnoticed by local residents and police, making them desirable target areas for drug growers.

While the upswing in drug growing activity is a troubling development, efforts to counter the trend may also provide an opportunity to improve public safety on reservations. The chronic lack of state and federal funds for law enforcement on Tribal lands has long contributed to increased crime rates and a backlog of unresolved cases. Now that Native American reservations have become part of the front line of the war on drugs, perhaps increased resources will be applied to raise the standard and efficiency of law enforcement activity in Tribal territories.
 

American Indian Movement Statement On Free Speech And Indigenous Rights

The Grand Governing Council of the American Indian Movement (AIM) has released the following statement in response to President Obama's recent address before the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

In President Obama's speech to the United Nations on September 23, 2009, he spoke of a 'new direction'. Two years ago, four solitary nations voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, they were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America. The Australian government has since reversed its vote and now support the international human rights standard toward Indigenous people. The American Indian Movement asks the question of the Obama Administration: Will his administration recognize and support the international standard approved by the vast majority of the world's nations?

The United Nations' 64th year brings world leaders together to our sacred homeland to discuss the effects of the world's problems to humankind. The American Indian Movement respects the right of all world leaders to speak. We support the right of Moammar Al Gathafi, leader of Libya. We respect the right of Evo Moralas, President of Bolivia. We respect the right of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. We respect the right of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. We respect the right to speak at the United Nations of all the world leaders visiting our homeland.

We often talk in terms of the first world, or the west; or the second world, the east; or the third world, or the non-aligned nations. Another important dimension to this concept is the fourth world of natural and Indigenous people. Peoples whose populations oftentimes go beyond geo-political boundaries. While these struggles have been going on for hundreds of years, the international community has, for the most part, ignored this reality. One of the greatest crimes against humanity occurred right here in the United States of America. Support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is a start to right this great wrong.

AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT GRAND GOVERNING COUNCIL
MINISTRY FOR INFORMATION
P.O. Box 13521
Minneapolis MN 55414
612/ 721-3914 . fax 612/ 721-7826
Email: aimggc@worldnet.att.net
Web Address: http://www.aimovement.org

Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder American Indian Movement
612.251.5836

Bill Means, International Indian Treaty Council
612.386.4030

Chief Terrance Nelson, Vice Chairman American Indian Movement
204.782.4827
 

Cohesive Tribal Government Is Critical For Economic Development

(Ken Lambert/Seattle Times)

While the appropriateness of government intervention in private business is a hotly-debated topic around the world, a clear truth is emerging closer to home: cohesive and sound governance is a crucial element for economic development in Native American communities. The proof comes both from success stories such as Tulalip and Pechanga, as well as the cautionary tale currently playing out within the Snoqualmie Tribe.

The Snoqualmie Tribe regained federal recognition in 1999 and last November opened a showpiece casino a half-hour from downtown Seattle The casino, financed with $375 million in debt, was conceived as a means of bringing prosperity to the Tribe's approximately 600 members. Instead, political infighting has brought turmoil, reduced revenue, and uncertainty regarding the Tribe’s economic future.

The problems stem from socio-political divisions that divided the Tribe’s governing body and rendered it unable to function effectively. "They were a split council and would not come together for joint meetings off and on since May," said Judy Joseph, superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Puget Sound Agency. "To maintain a government-to-government relationship, they have to be a viable Tribal government," Joseph said. "If there is any question about that, it causes red flags to go up, and they were split, they were not meeting."  In August, the Tribe's administrative offices were padlocked and some of its federal funds frozen. Elders stepped in to dissolve the council and take charge until new elections could be held — but they had no constitutional authority to do that. The Tribe was facing the prospect of the U.S. government assuming administrative control of the Tribal government. The BIA offered mediation this month, which resulted in reinstatement of the council that was in place before the disputed May election.

Meanwhile, the new casino has only been producing one-fourth of the revenue originally budgeted, and its operations are mired in administrative and regulatory problems. Unresolved federal audit findings could expose the Tribe to significant liability, and until recently federal funds allocations to Snoqualmie were frozen by the U.S. government. To address these significant issues, the Tribe's general membership will meet this month to consider election procedures and set a date for a new council election.

While dissension and differences of opinion are common for any political entity, the need for Tribes to maintain a solid, functioning government structure is of paramount importance for both political and economic purposes. Both the federal government and private investors are wary of contributing capital in places where leadership is in doubt, making it crucial for Tribes to demonstrate that their decision making bodies and procedures are stable.

3rd Annual Native American Economic Development Conference, 16-18 September In Las Vegas

Foster Pepper PLLC and KeyBank are Co-Sponsors of the huge Native American Economic Development Conference to be held at the Westin in Las Vegas September 16-18, 2009. The far-ranging seminar will cover topics of immense importance to Tribal economies, including:

  • Tribal Leaders Roundtable: The Impact of President Obama’s Administration
  • Economic Development Bonds and the Federal Stimulus Package: Effects on Tribal Financing
  • Tribal Enterprises Facing Bankruptcy
  • CEO Roundtable: Private Enterprise Boards vs. Tribal Governments
  • CFO Roundtable- External Diversification vs. Internal Reinvestment: Weighing Risk Management Issues
  • Economic Development Roundtable: Stimulating Revenue Growth
  • Effective Master Planning
  • Design and Construction Roundtable: Climbing out of a Recession
  • Strategic Marketing in a New Economic Era
  • Using Sports and Entertainment to Maximize Casino Traffic
  • Planning for Retirement in Indian Country

The conference presenters possess unparalleled expertise in Tribal economic development issues, and include:

  • Mellor Willie, Executive Director, National American Indian Housing Council
  • Elaine Fink, Chairperson, Northfork Rancheria of Mono Indians
  • Henry Cagey, Chairman, Lummi Nation
  • Bob Garcia, Chairman, The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
  • Robert Martin, Chairman, Morongo Band of Mission Indians
  • Georgia Noble, Chairperson, Sac & Fox National Business Enterprise Board
  • Mel Sheldon, Chairman, Tulalip Tribes of Washington
  • Glenn Hall, CEO, Bishop Paiute Tribe
  • Robert Mele, CFO, Seneca Construction Management Corporation
  • Robert Winter, CEO, Navajo National Gaming Enterprises
  • Chris Kelley, CFO, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  • Eletta Tiam, CFO, Nisqually Tribe
  • Michael Marchand, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation
  • Virgil Moorhead, Chairman, Big Lagoon Rancheria
  • Morris Reid, Chairman, Picayune Rancheria of Chuckchansi Indians
  • Ivan Posey, Chairman, Shoshone Tribe of the Winder River Reservation
  • Theresa Two Bulls, President, Ogalala Sioux Tribe of The Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Cedric Black Eagle, Chairman, Crow Nation
  • Louis J. Manuel Jr., Chairman, Ak-Chin Indian Community
  • Michael Broderick, Director of Marketing, Lake of the Torches Resort Casino
  • Mary Galbraith, Director of Strategic Marketing, Cherokee National Entertainment
  • Michael L. Bearhart, Director of Gaming, St. Croix Casino & Hotel
  • Scott Eldredge, General Manager, Santa Ana Start Casino

Additional conference information and registration information can be accessed through Pier Conference Group.

 

 

 

 

Tribal Casino Defaults Raise Big Questions On Bankruptcy Laws

The economic downturn is opening some previously-uncharted legal territory - the question of applicability of federal bankruptcy laws and procedures for troubled Tribal enterprises. 

The Mashantucket Western Pequot Tribal Nation, owner of the massive Foxwoods Resort Casino, is seeking to restructure at least $1.45 billion in debt.  With gaming revenues in steep decline due to a lack of players, Foxwoods is at risk of becoming the biggest Tribal casino company to default on its debt. 

The looming cash crunch highlights the different economic and legal landscape in which Tribal enterprises operate. “They can’t do the types of things other debtors can in a restructure,” says Megan Neuburger, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in New York. “Tribal casinos can’t do a debt-for-equity swap. They can’t raise cash by selling off assets on Tribal land to repay creditors."  Standard & Poor’s has cut its Mashantucket rating four steps to CCC and placed the debt on credit watch.  Creditors probably can’t take over assets or operations of casinos on Tribal land, which are sovereign nations, as they may with commercial bankruptcies, Neuburger said. That leaves them little choice other than to restructure debts and work with the Tribe.

No Tribal casino has yet tested federal bankruptcy laws.  “Bankruptcy law does not apply to Tribal situations in the same way it does to a commercial situation,” Neuburger said.  Michael Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, told members that the Tribal government would be paid first, before bankers or bondholders.  “It might be posturing, but the Tribe is indicating that it might put itself, the equity holder, ahead of the debt, ignoring corporate law,” said Lawrence Klatzkin of municipal bond broker Chapdelaine Credit Partners. “It probably won’t happen, but if it does, who’s to say other Tribes don’t say, ‘If Foxwoods doesn’t need to meet its U.S. legal obligations, maybe I don’t either.’”

 

Indian Law Resource Center Releases Annual Report

The Indian Law Resource Center has released its annual report highlighting work undertaken to defend the rights of Native American nations and other indigenous peoples in the Americas.  Attorneys and Board Members from the ILRC played a central role in the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and are working to educate and encourage Native communities to use the Declaration to strengthen their rights of self-determination, protect their human rights, and control their own land and natural resources.

Blackfeet Nation Enters Into Cross-Border Law Enforcement Pact

The Blackfeet Nation has entered into a ground-breaking agreement with neighboring Glacier County for fully reciprocal cross-deputization, a law enforcement pact that both parties called unprecedented. "This is truly a historic document," Tribal Attorney Sandra Watts told the Blackfeet Business Council. "It goes beyond anything else in the nation. In the past, there have been one-way agreements, but nothing that's truly reciprocal."

The agreement formalizes a working agreement that's been in effect for the past month, but it's also limited to the next 60 days as a trial period. "When their deputies come onto our reservation, they become officers of the Tribe and they can enforce both the tribal and state laws," Watts told the council. "And when our Tribal police officers are off the reservation in Glacier County, they can enforce state laws."

Previously, county deputies had been issued commission cards from the Tribe allowing them to enforce state law on non-Indians living on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but those cards were revoked last year. That left deputies unable to arrest non-Natives living on the reservations who committed crimes or who had warrants against them in state courts. The major difference is that race is a factor on the reservation — Native Americans are issued warrants for Tribal Court, while non-Natives are issued warrants for magistrate court or district court . Off the reservations, all warrants are for magistrate or district court.
 

Tulalip Elder Court Members Honored With Local Heroes Award

 

The seven Tribal members who make up the Tulalip Elder Court have been honored by the Washington State Bar Association with its Local Hero Award. The award recognizes the Court’s effective work in reducing recidivism in young offenders, and its focus on cultural and spiritual integration in the legal system.

First-time offenders between the ages of 18 and the mid-20s who face misdemeanor charges in Tulalip Tribal Court can elect to appear before the Elder Court instead. There, the young offenders are required to fulfill a series of requirements that often more resemble tribal traditions than standard punishments. A young adult in Elder Court could be asked to create a family tree by interviewing older family members, or to attend a traditional event in the tribal longhouse. It’s not unusual for young adults who create family trees to discover that they are related in some way to Court members. Such realizations foster the understanding that an entire community is relying on them to be a productive member of society.

Each youth is required to meet regularly with the Elder Court as he or she moves through the process of turning away from crime. Court statistics reflect that fewer than 10 percent of the youth who proceed through Elder Court are returned for subsequent offenses.
 

Navajo Tribal Codes Now Online

Navajo Nation Code Annotated now available on Web

Photo courtesy Joshua Lavar Butler

As reported in Indian Country Today, the laws of the Navajo Nation are now accessible worldwide through the Internet on Westlaw.  This accessibility was made possible through the coordinated efforts of the Navajo Nation’s Office of Legislative Counsel and West Publishing, which publishes all 26 titles of the Navajo Nation Code Annotated in a four volume book format, a CD ROM, and through online subscription to www.westlaw.com. The Navajo Nation Code Annotated incorporates all enacted legislation as well as excerpts of all Navajo Nation Supreme Court opinions which may have an impact on the interpretation of provisions of the codes.

A significant challenge for Tribal Law practitioners is the relative lack of electronically-available Tribal Codes and Tribal Court decisions.  The Navajo effort serves as a model for providing universal accessibility to Tribal legal authority, and will hopefully lead to increased availability of the Codes and Tribal Court opinions in other jurisdictions. 

Senator Inouye Seeks To Exempt Tribes From The NLRA

 

The proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year is designed to aid the organization efforts of labor unions. Among other provisions, the current version of EFCA would eliminate secret-ballot elections for union certification and allow a union to be established through a “card check” system similar to gathering signatures for a petition. In conjunction with the 2007 decision in San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino v. NLRB that applied the National Labor Relations Act (the NLRA) to Tribal casinos, the likelihood of union organization activity in Tribal jurisdictions would increase significantly. In response, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has stated his intention to propose an amendment to EFCA that would expressly exclude any federally recognized Tribe or Tribal entity from coverage by the NLRA.

The NLRA prohibits employers from interfering with employees' efforts to organize, and EFCA would stiffen enforcement, requiring employers to pay fines and increased back pay for violating employee rights. EFCA’s most controversial provision would allow a union to be recognized as the sole collective bargaining unit for employees based strictly on a majority of employees have signing forms in favor of the union, rather than through a secret ballot election. EFCA additionally provides for mandatory binding arbitration if the employer and the union cannot reach a collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator could — without employer consent — set terms and conditions of employment that would be binding on the employer for two years.

As the federal legislation continues to develop, it behooves Tribes to create their own labor and employment policies and procedures to govern conduct within their jurisdiction. Federal intervention in Tribal legal affairs is often based on a Tribe’s lack of specific regulations addressing topics (e.g. labor and employment); conversely, federal agencies are often less likely to assert authority over Tribal affairs when the Tribe at issue has its own well-defined legal policies that render federal involvement unnecessary. For additional information on the creation of Tribal labor and employment policies, contact attorneys Katheryn Bradley or Julie Kebler.
 

 

Probate of Native American Trust, Personal, and Real Property Under AIPRA

As is frequently the case with issues dealing with Tribal law, the question of what court has jurisdiction to probate a decedent’s assets -- and which law that court will apply -- is much more complicated for an Native American decedent than it is for non-Native citizens. Three different sovereigns may have jurisdiction and control over the property – a Tribe, a state, or the federal government. Which court will have jurisdiction, and which law will apply, depends on the nature of the property (personal, real, or trust), where the decedent lived and was domiciled, and where the property was located at the time of death. Trust property is handled exclusively by federal government under the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA), while a Native decedent’s personal and real property is distributed under either Tribal or state law.  Duncan Connelly's article provides an overview of how AIPRA governs the probate process for trust or restricted land, and describes the established, albeit complicated, system of probate for an Native American decedent’s non-trust land personal and real property. The issues discussed warrant careful consideration as Tribes and their members work to implement personal and collective priorities regarding the protection of cultural resources and Tribal assets.
 

Homicide Now A Top-10 Cause Of Death For Native American Women

Photo Courtesy of HomeLand Colors

Data recently released from National Centers for Disease Control shows homicide as the 9th leading cause of death for Native American women from ages 1 to 65.  For Native American women in certain age groups, that ranking is higher still.

Jacqueline Agtuca of the Tribal non–profit group called Clan Star studies issues of safety and health for Native American women.  She says few murders, rapes, or assaults occurring in Tribal communities are ultimately prosecuted to conviction.  Across the country, less than one-third of all criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors by the BIA or FBI result in any prosecution at all.  "Until we have that response on a national level from the federal government who handles these cases, we are not going to see a decline."
 

 

 

Major Tribal Law Conference In Seattle May 8th

On Friday, May 8, 2009, the Washington State Bar Association’s Indian Law Section will hold its 21st Annual Conference and continuing legal education seminar in Seattle. Co-hosted by the law firm of Foster Pepper PLLC, the day-long program will cover cutting-edge legal issues affecting Native American communities, including:

  • Federal Tribal trust funds mismanagement
  • Revisiting the issue of Native American civil rights and Tribal sovereignty
  • Examining the Duwamish Tribe and other federal recognition cases
  • Native American policy under the Obama administration
  • Juvenile justice in Native communities
  • Tax planning for Tribal construction and economic development projects

The panel of presenters features numerous acclaimed experts on Tribal issues, including:

  • Diana Bob, National Congress of American Indians, Washington D.C.
  • Melody McCoy, Native American Rights Fund, Boulder, Colorado
  • Rob Roy Smith, lead counsel in the ground-breaking Snoqualmie Tribal banishment case
  • Tom Schlosser, advocate and educator on Tribal legal affairs
  • Jeff Nave, national Tribal finance and tax credit expert

The program also includes a traditional dance performance and cultural competency presentation by “One Crazy Raven” Gene Tagaban. You can follow the program during the day via this site's Twitter updates @nativelegal.
 

Snoqualmie Members Overturn Banishment In Federal Court

In a legal first, Tribal members have been victorious in Federal court challenging a Tribal banishment action.  

On April 30, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by nine Snoqualmie Tribe members challenging a banishment imposed by the government of the Snoqualmie Tribe in May last year. A copy of the Findings and Conclusions may be read here.  The Court held that the Tribe's government violated the Petitioners' due process rights under the Indian Civil Rights Act and vacated the full banishment.  As a result, the Petitioners' membership in the Tribe, as well as their benefits, are restored.  The Court also imposed a time restriction on a pre-existing social banishment that prevented the Petitioners from coming onto Tribal land and attending Tribal events. The Court also reduced the open-ended social banishment to 90 days. 

The decision comes after the first trial held in Federal court under the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act seeking relief from a tribal banishment action. This is the first Federal court decision to overturn a banishment after trial upon a finding of a denial of due process. As previously discussed on this site, banishment is increasingly being employed by various Tribes to deal with disciplinary and other control issues.  The Snoqualmie decision could have profound effects on the way Tribal governments deal with political and criminal issues involving their members, with banishment decisions now being scrutinized in federal courts.

Yakama Nation Enacts Sex Offender Registration Requirements

The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have passed a resolution requiring any sex offender who lives or works on the Yakama Indian Reservation to register with the Nation’s law enforcement agencies. The Yakama Nation is the first government in the Yakima Valley of Washington State to require sex offenders to not only register if they live on the reservation, but also if they live elsewhere but are employed on the reservation.

The registration requirement applies to all persons whether Native or non-Native, and carries penalties of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine for non-compliance.
 

Navajo Public Defenders Undertake Intensive Skills Training

Attorneys from Navajo Public Defender, Foster Pepper, and UW Native American Law Center

Attorneys of the Navajo Nation’s Office of the Public Defender are participating in advanced litigation skills training seminars this week in Window Rock, Arizona, sharpening their skills in criminal case investigation and pre-trial evidentiary practice.

The training program is conducted jointly by the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center and Foster Pepper PLLC’s Native American Legal Services Group, and provides in-depth instruction and practical exercises in strategic case planning, conducting discovery, motions practice, and the role of Navajo Fundamental Law in the contemporary judicial system. The program culminates at the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation, where the Public Defenders will observe and analyze oral arguments before the Nation’s highest court on issues pertaining to defense of those accused of Navajo Criminal Code violations.
 

MacArthur Foundation Grant Awarded To UW Native American Law Center For Tribal Youth Justice Program

Picture of Ron  Whitener

Professor Ron Whitener - UW Native American Law Center

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just announced a $225,000 grant award to the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center, which will fund the Center’s ground-breaking new program to help Tribal communities develop strategies to address the needs of Native American children in state and Tribal juvenile justice systems. The program and grant were conceived and will be managed by Professor Ron Whitener, a Director of the University’s Native American Law Center. Professor Whitener is Assistant Professor of Law and the Director of the Tribal Court Criminal Defense Clinic at the University, is Of Counsel to the law firm of Foster Pepper PLLC in Seattle, and serves as Chief Judge for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis.

The MacArthur Foundation is an international organization that supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.
 

Blackfeet Launch First Strike Against Oliphant

  

Fed up with crimes on Tribal lands that go unpunished in state or federal courts, the Blackfeet Nation has resolved to challenge the legal authority that limits Tribal Court jurisdiction and punishments.  Blackfeet Tribal Resolution No. 98-2009 calls on Montana’s Congressional Delegation to sponsor a bill to allow Tribes to remedy Oliphant v. Suquamish, 435 U.S. 191 (1978).

As previous articles on this site have discussed, the Oliphant decision and the Indian Civil Rights Act together limit Tribal Court jurisdiction over "non-Indians" and allow Tribal judges to impose only a maximum one-year prison sentence for any crime, no matter how violent or damaging to the Tribe. Currently, the sole authority to prosecute major felony crime lies with the federal government, yet from 1997 to 2006 federal prosecutors rejected nearly two-thirds of the reservation cases referred by FBI and BIA investigators.

This year Senator Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced a draft for the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009. If enacted, the law would make incremental steps to an Oliphant remedy in the following areas: 1) Allowing Tribal Courts to impose up to 3 years in prison or a fine of up to $15,000 for major crimes; 2) Increasing funding for Tribal Courts and law enforcement departments; and 3) Creating a new Law and Order Commission to study issues of jurisdiction, investigation, and prosecution of reservation crimes and the impact on residents of Tribal land. The Commission would have two years from the enactment of the legislation to issue a report to Congress. 

The Law As A Weapon Against Alcoholism

 

In an effort to combat the ravages of alcoholism, the Tulalip Grassroots Committee, an organization of members of the Tulalip Tribes, will soon present an initiative to the Tribe’s General Council calling for a ban on the sale of beer, wine, and other alcohol anywhere outside the Quil Ceda Village shopping area on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. The new legal policy would also prohibit restaurants and businesses within the reservation from advertising alcohol on signs. If the initiative is approved, the state-run liquor store near the Tulalip Casino would be forced to remove alcohol advertising signs from its window, and two stores near the reservation's western edge would no longer be allowed to sell beer and other alcohol.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 12 percent of all Native American deaths are linked to alcohol, roughly twice the rate of alcohol-related deaths for the rest of the U.S. population. "Indians have a lifelong battle with alcohol," said Les Parks, who leads the Tulalip Grassroots Committee.

Tribes across the country have previously attempted to utilize legal measures to reduce alcohol consumption by Tribal members, with mixed results. In 2000 the Yakama Nation banned alcohol sales on Tribal lands and unilaterally imposed a tax on alcohol sales on private land within the reservation, drawing fury from non-Native business owners and the State of Washington, which holds a monopoly on the sale of bottled liquor. The history of Prohibition within the United States reflects the difficulty of using the law alone to battle socio-medical problems on a broad scale. While legal measures may heighten awareness of issues and raise obstacles to obtaining alcohol, the complexity of alcoholism in Native communities will undoubtedly require the concerted effort of legal scholars, social scientists, and traditional healers to resolve.
 

Should Federal Courts Intervene In Tribal Banishments?

Image

Banished Snoqualmie Tribe Members at Seattle's Federal Courthouse (Seattle Times)

"It's just like death" 

"We were treated like criminals" 

“It’s ripping a big family apart”


These comments from Linda Sweet-Baxter, Carolyn Lubenau, and Anita Christansen arose from a recent court hearing on the banishment orders issued by the Snoqualmie Tribe, affecting nine (now “former”) Tribal members. Along with the substantive and cultural issues involved in the banishments, another point of interest was the venue for the hearing – the Federal Court for the Western District of Washington.

The banished members brought legal action in federal court under the Indian Civil Rights Act, alleging the leadership of the Snoqualmie Tribe denied them their right of due process, including adequate notice and an opportunity to speak on their own behalf. The challenges facing the Court went beyond the legal principles at issue, as the non-Native judge, court reporter, and lawyers struggled throughout the hearing to pronounce words in the Tribe’s Lushootseed language.

While federal courts are well-equipped to deal with issues of Constitutional, federal, and even state law, their ability to deal effectively with the political, cultural, and familial complexities of Tribal banishment cases is a significant concern. On a more fundamental level, there is a question of sovereignty involved in reviewing a Tribe’s decision regarding who is and is not one of its members. With the increasing use by Tribes of banishment as a method of criminal (and sometimes political) punishment, legal scholars and advocates must analyze and establish the appropriate boundaries between federal protection under ICRA and a Tribe’s inherent jurisdiction over its membership.
 

Grassroots Movement Pursuing Ban on Native American Mascots, Logos

Recently a local Madison newspaper ran an interesting story on a grass roots movement in Wisconsin to ban public schools from using Native American mascots, logos, or nicknames.

The article reported that, while the number of schools across the nation that have dropped or altered mascots and logos have increased over the years, not one state has passed a law banning usage of Native American mascots, logos, or nicknames to date.

Currently, lawmakers in Wisconsin are trying to pass a bill that would change this reality. The bill would create a process for people to complain about race-based logos, nicknames or mascots. Once a complaint was filed, the state Department of Public Instruction would hold a hearing and make a decision. If the Superintendent of Public Instruction ruled the complaint was valid, the school would have tweleve months to phase out the mascot or logo. And defiance would come at a high cost – a school could be fined between $100 and $1,000 a day for refusing to phase out the offensive mascot, logo, or nickname.

Because cultural competency is increasing, and knowledge of Native American history is expanding, some mascots and logos that once were viewed as entertaining are now considered racist and disrespectful. If even a small group of people find a mascot or logo to be offensive, it should be remove or phased out immediately. Cultural respect is far more important that maintaining imagery for the sake of entertainment; moreover, it is incredibly important to be culturally sensitive if we are to progress as a society that embraces diversity.

A legislative hearing on the bill is scheduled for March 17. The bill would have to pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed by the governor to become law. Native American educators and legislators have also started mobilizing and collaborating with the Wisconsin group in charge of the grassroots effort to support the movement, which they believe is important in making a positive change in the way Native Americans are portrayed in schools and in the community. It will be interesting to see if this bill is passed, and if it is, if it has a nationwide effect.
 

Local Goverment Law Report

 

Today the U.S. Supreme Court held that under the Indian Reorganization Act, the Interior cannot take land into trust for tribes seeking to avoid town's land use controls if the tribe was not federally recognized as of 1934 (per Carcieri v. Salazar) and that a state is free to forbid its local governments to provide payroll deductions for transmittal to unions for political activities (see  Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association).

 

Also, yesterday the Eleventh Circuit found that police cordon around protest rally allegedly so far from the rally point that the public and press could not hear what was going on likely violated the First Amendment . (See Amnesty International, USA v. Battle).
 

Wondering If You're An "Indian"? Ask The Ninth Circuit

                                                                            

 (Billy Mills; Sitting Bear

Articles on this site have previously commented on the troubling fact that race continues to be an actively-considered element in both substantive and jurisdictional issues of law affecting Native Americans. The recent 9th Circuit case of United States v. Cruz demonstrates that the phenomenon of “race laws” continues to haunt the national landscape.

The Cruz case involves the analysis of whether a criminal defendant could be tried by a federal court under the laws of the United States. The federal government contended that Mr. Cruz is an “Indian” and committed an assault on Tribal land, thereby subjecting him to federal jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6). Mr. Cruz appealed, alleging that he is not an “Indian” and therefore not subject to federal jurisdiction under the statute. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal offered the following preface to its analysis:

“At first glance, there appears to be something odd about a court of law in a diverse nation such as ours deciding whether a specific individual is or is not “an Indian.” Yet, given the long and complex relationship between the government of the United States and the sovereign tribal nations within its borders, the criminal jurisdiction of the federal government often turns on precisely this question — whether a particular individual “counts” as an Indian — and it is this question that we address once again today.”

The Court then plunged into an analysis of Mr. Cruz’s racial heritage, determining that

“His father is Hispanic and his mother is 29/64 Blackfeet Indian and 32/64 Blood Indian. The Blackfeet are a federally recognized tribe based in northern Montana; the Blood Indians are a Canadian tribe. Given his parents’ heritage, Cruz is 29/128 Blackfeet Indian and 32/128 Blood Indian.”

The Court ultimately found that the evidence in the case “does not demonstrate that Cruz is an Indian”, and remanded the matter back to the lower court with directions to acquit Mr. Cruz of the federal charges.

The Cruz case is merely the latest in a long series of cases where judges have attempted to determine who is and is not Native American through subjective racial analysis. Leaving aside the glaring issue of why race is a jurisdictional factor in the first place, courts have also failed to create any uniform standard for this tortured arithmetic. In Sully v. United States, 195 F. 113 (8th Cir.1912). 1/8 “Indian” blood was held sufficient to be Indian; in Vezina v. United States, 245 F. 411 (8th Cir.1917), women 1/4 to 3/8 Chippewa were held to be Indian; in Makah Indian Tribe v. Clallam County, 73 Wash.2d 677, 440 P.2d 442 (1968), 1/4 Makah blood sufficient to satisfy the “Indian blood requirement”, in Goforth v. State, 644 P.2d 114, 116 (Okla.Crim.App.1982), the requirement of Indian blood was satisfied by testimony that a person was slightly less than one-quarter Cherokee; and in St. Cloud v. United States, 702 F.Supp. 1456, 1460 (D.S.D.1988), 15/32 of Yankton Sioux blood was held sufficient to establish one as an “Indian”.

Conducting mathematical calculations on a human being’s racial ancestry for the purpose of deciding which laws apply to that person harkens back to the darkest days of American jurisprudence. For those who thought America had moved beyond Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court decided that a person who was “7/8ths White” could be consigned to both a separate train car and a separate legal standard, it is clear that much work still remains to be done. It has become typical for courts to “punt” the obvious problems with race laws involving Native Americans by saying “it’s Congress’ responsibility, not the courts.” This justification for abdicating judicial responsibility is not only legally fallacious, it directly contradicts the clear legal precedent of cases such as Brown v. Board of Education where legal policies based on race were declared inherently unconstitutional. Courts clearly have the legal authority to put an end to race-based laws, all they need is the courage.

A far better way for Tribal/federal jurisdiction questions to be analyzed is based on treaty status, with Tribal members being subject to either Tribal or federal jurisdiction based on agreements between their Tribe and the US government.  These are the same principles used when citizens of Canada, Mexico, or other sovereigns  are charged with crimes within the United States, and the procedures for determining jurisdiction are well established. Such a policy would properly acknowledge the sovereign status of Tribes, and eliminate the embarrassing and intellectually-unsupportable notion that a person’s race should determine their legal status in America.
 

Gonzaga University Launches Native American Law Program

Gonzaga Law School (November.org)

Under the leadership of Professor Jay Kanassatega, a new Federal Indian Law Program has been created at Gonzaga University's law school. The program is designed to foster the development of both future attorneys and Native governmental leaders. For law students, the program will provide intensive instruction and practical experience in legal matters affecting Native communities. For Tribal governments, the program focuses on analysis and development of effective policies and their interaction with the national political system. The new Federal Indian Law Clinic, created in partnership with the Kalispel Tribe, offers Gonzaga students the opportunity to handle active legal matters in Tribal and state courts. The program’s next goal is the creation of the Institute for Development of Economic Policy for Indigenous People, which will focus on furthering economic self-reliance for Native people. The program will also be partnering with private law firms and other entities to take on federal cases of national import to Tribes and their members.

Professor Kanassatega comes to Gonzaga from private practice with the firm of Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis, where he focused on complex commercial litigation on behalf of Tribes and commercial entities. He previously served as the first Solicitor General of the Non-Removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and was instrumental in helping the Band design, draft legislation, and implement the first separation-of-powers Indian government in Minnesota, including the Band's first court system. Prior to serving as Solicitor General, he served the Band as its Commissioner of Judicial Affairs, administered its Office of Management and Budget and served as its Economic Development Planner.

Associate Professor George Critchlow summed up the impetus behind the University’s new program. “Here at the law school we’ve been aware that we’re surrounded by tribes. It seemed to us this was a logical place to have an Indian law program and to put more emphasis on training students, both Native as well as non-Native, about the legal needs of the tribes and individual Natives to equip them with not only theoretical knowledge, but some of the skills and cultural information that would be useful in terms of being effective lawyers in representing Indian interests.”
 

Why Are Tribal Courts Restricted To One-Year Criminal Sentences?

(Tribal Courthouse - Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan)

In 1968, Congress passed legislation codified as 25 U.S.C. §§ 1301-03, better known as the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Modeled after various portions of the amendments to the US Constitution that comprise the Bill of Rights, ICRA mandates protections for Tribal members such as freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly. Subparagraph 7 of Section 1302 of ICRA provides that Tribal Courts shall not require excessive bail, impose excessive fines, impose cruel or unusual punishment, “and in no event impose for conviction of any one offense any penalty or punishment greater than imprisonment for a term of one year and a fine of $5,000, or both.”


Murder, rape, armed robbery – a Tribal Court can only impose a maximum one-year jail sentence for these or any other crimes committed on a reservation. If the Tribe views such punishment as inadequate for what in most jurisdictions would be capital crimes, its only option is to surrender jurisdiction to a state or federal court and allow the matter to be adjudicated in those systems.


Why?


In the 21st Century, what legal, intellectual, or philosophical justification exists for restricting the power of Tribal Courts to administer reasonable justice in their sovereign territory? Outside the realm of Tribal lands, courts in even the poorest and least-educated counties in America have the full sentencing panoply (including life sentences and capital punishment) available to deal with criminal acts occurring within their jurisdictions. Yet Tribes with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and sophisticated judicial systems are only permitted to issue sentences equivalent to that which non-Native courts impose on habitual traffic offenders.

The ability to make and enforce laws to protect the security and possessions of the members of a nation is a basic and fundamental element of sovereignty. When a capital crime is committed on Tribal lands, the Tribe suffers twice – first from the act itself, and then from the humiliation of having to hand over jurisdiction to a foreign court as the only means to pursue reasonable justice. At what point do federal/Tribal relations move beyond the Oliphant standard, wherein Tribes are given authority only to the point “consistent with the safety of the white population with which they may have come in contact”? In the era when the United States has finally proven itself “ready” to elect a person of color to the highest office in the land, is it also now ready to provide Tribal Courts the same basic legal authority as any other tribunal in the land?
 

Ghosts of Pine Ridge: AIM Murder Trial Postponed Again

(photo: AIM-Arizona Chapter)

The violent events associated with Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge, and the American Indian Movement (AIM) have proved to be among the most haunting chapters in modern Native American history. A recent court decision ensures this controversial book will remain open longer still, as U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol has delayed again the trial of two men charged in the slaying of a fellow AIM member 33 years ago.

John Graham and Richard Marshall were scheduled to stand trial Feb. 24 in Rapid City, South Dakota on charges they committed or aided and abetted the first-degree murder of Annie Mae Aquash on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Ms. Aquash was among the militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee in a 71-day standoff with federal authorities in 1973, that included exchanges of gunfire with agents who surrounded the village.

Arlo Looking Cloud, a Lakota who was living homeless in Denver, was convicted in 2004 for his role in the murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is now stated to be cooperating with the government in its case against Graham and Marshall, leading to their indictments. Witnesses at Looking Cloud's trial said he, Graham and Theda Clarke drove Ms. Aquash from Denver in late 1975 and that Graham shot her as she begged for her life. Prosecution witnesses accuse Marshall of providing the handgun and shells Graham used to killed Ms. Aquash, allegedly on orders from AIM leaders who suspected she was a government informant.

Graham has denied the killing but acknowledged being in the car from Denver. He was scheduled to stand trial in October, but the indictment was dismissed because it didn't show that either Graham or Ms. Aquash belonged to a federally recognized Tribe – a prerequisite for federal criminal jurisdiction. Graham descends from the Tsimshian Tribe in the Yukon and fought his extradition from Canada for more than four years. He was extradited in December 2007 after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to review his case. Ms. Aquash was a member of Mi'kmaq Tribe of Nova Scotia.

The trial is being delayed because Marshall's attorney filed a motion in January requesting at least another two months to prepare the case, stating that the trial likely will include testimony about AIM, Wounded Knee, the 1975 slaying of two FBI agents and other events. Judge Piersol’s ruling states: "The Court agrees with counsel for Marshall that this case presents complex legal and factual issues. The crime involves multiple defendants and allegedly occurred as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy arising out of the AIM movement of the 1970s." For those whose lives and families were shattered by the blood that was shed more than 30 years ago, the ghosts of Pine Ridge are about to rise once again.

Federal Court Upholds Native American Voting Rights In South Dakota Lawsuit

On December 16, 2008, a federal appeals affirmed a decision protecting the rights of Native American voters in Martin, South Dakota. Siding with the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eight Circuit ordered local officials to correct violations of the Voting Rights Act  that prevented Native Americans from having an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

According to the ACLU Voting Rights Project, this was a tremendous victory for the people of Martin, South Dakota, who, according to attorneys working on the case, have endured a long, hard struggle for equality at the voting booth. Undoubtedly, this ruling will provide Indian voters with the right to have an equal say in choosing their government.

In terms of background, the ACLU brought the lawsuit mid-2002 on behalf of two Native American voters who said that the redistricting plan adopted by the city that year had the purpose and effect of diluting Native American voting strength. Because the Native American population made up approximately 45 percent of the city's population, it would have been unable to elect any candidates of their choice to the city council because the redistricting plan ensured that white voters controlled all three city council wards.

The district court initially ruled in the city's favor in March 2005. The Native American plaintiffs appealed, and on May 5, 2006, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, sending the case back to the district court.

In December 2006, the district court not only ordered a "full and complete remedy" for the plaintiffs, but also affirmed many of the factual claims of voting discrimination that the voters had described in their original lawsuit, including the fact that the city's redistricting plan unlawfully dilutes Native American voting strength. The ruling from December 16th upholds that decision, as well as the adoption of voting system proposed by the plaintiffs.

This decision will undoubtedly provide Native Americans with an equal voice in the selection of city officials. The ruling is also an important reminder that the Voting Rights Act remains a valuable tool to guard against discrimination in the electoral process.

To view the decision, please click here.

Why Are Tribal Courts The Last Race-Based Jurisdiction In The United States?

If an American enters the sovereign territory of Canada or Mexico and commits murder, he or she can expect to face the full weight of that nation's laws and be punished through that nation's court system.  But if a non-Native American enters the sovereign territory of a Tribe and murders a Tribal member, what punishment can that person expect to receive from the Tribe's Court and legal system?

 

None whatsoever.

 

Due to a unique set of federal legal decisions and policies, Tribal Courts have no jurisdiction to impose criminal penalties against "non-Indians", even when the crimes are committed on Tribal land or against Tribal members.  Crimes committed by "non-Indians" on Tribal land are subject to state and/or federal jurisdiction and the perpetrators face punishment under state and/or federal law, but the affected Tribe has no legal standing to pursue justice for wrongs committed against its own people.

In no other area of American jurisprudence is race - in this case "Indian" or "non-Indian" - a factor in determining whether a court has jurisdiction over a criminal defendant.  Decades ago the Civil Rights Movement helped sweep away race-based segregation and "Jim Crow" laws, but seemingly had no impact on the use of race as a jurisdictional consideration in the realm of Tribal Courts.  Indeed, the seminal Supreme Court opinion that confirmed the restrictions on Tribal Court jurisdiction was issued in 1978, more than a decade after the Civil Rights Act liberated the rest of America's population from racial discrimination in its governmental institutions.  In addition to the basic question of why race is a factor in Tribal justice, numerous other issues arise in this paradigm: Who exactly is a "non-Indian"?  Is a person with a drop of Native blood in the family lineage considered an "Indian" under this system?  What "race authority" should have the final word on determining such questions?

The US Supreme Court's opinion in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe provides startling insight into the policies and mind-set that resulted in the limited jurisdiction of Tribal Courts.  It is striking that nearly all of the legal authority on which the court relied was from the 19th Century, when the attitudes of the American government toward Native Americans were anything but enlightened.  Citing In re Mayfield, 141 U.S. 107, 115 -116 (1891), the Oliphant Court noted that the policy of Congress had been to allow the inhabitants of Indian country "such power of self-government as was thought to be consistent with the safety of the white population with which they may have come in contact, and to encourage them as far as possible in raising themselves to our standard of civilization."  The Supreme Court's decision in 1978 also cited the view Congress took toward the state of Tribal Courts in 1834: "With the exception of two or three tribes, who have within a few years past attempted to establish some few laws and regulations among themselves, the Indian tribes are without laws, and the chiefs without much authority to exercise any restraint." H. R. Rep. No. 474, 23d Cong., 1st Sess., 91 (1834).   The idea that such antiquated and ill-informed perspectives could still be the basis for American legal policy in the 21st Century is difficult to fathom, and is a sad reflection of the persistent racial discrimination that lurks even in the land that produced the Bill of Rights.

What is to be done to correct this glaring discrepancy?  Reading between the lines in the Oliphant decision, it seems that the Supreme Court of the time felt that the restrictions on Tribal Court jurisdiction were no longer appropriate, but that under the doctrine of separation of powers an act of Congress was required to rectify the situation.  Thirty years later, Congress has obviously failed to take the hint.  In all likelihood, removing race from jurisdictional considerations for Tribal Courts will require concerted pressure and lobbying of Congress by Tribes all across the country, acting in a coordinated and united front to claim this basic element of sovereignty.

Yavapai-Prescott Tribe Sued In Historic Preservation Dispute

Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe elder Ted Vaughn is suing the Tribe's Board of directors over the construction of a new administration building next to the historic home of the founders of the Tribe's reservation.

Vaughn has a personal stake in the issue: the founders, Sam and Viola Jimulla, were his grandparents, and he grew up in the house. These days, he teaches the Yavapai language in the Jimulla house in an effort to preserve the Tribe's language and culture.

Vaughn accuses the Board and Tribal planner of hiding the fact that they were going to build the huge new resource building within 20 feet of the Jimulla home, which he calls a "priceless Tribal historic and archaeological resource."

When construction started in May, the workers tore down a rock wall his grandfather built, and started work on the project that will block the panoramic views from the home.

"We placed the building in the best location possible," considering factors such as limited space, slope, etc., Tribal General Manager Jim Noe responded.

In papers filed in Tribal court, the Board says the Jimulla house is government property and Vaughn has no "personal ownership interest" in it. Vaughn had plenty of due process under the law, the Board's motion to dismiss the lawsuit states.

Vaughn is trying to violate the Board's sovereign immunity, the Board's motion adds. Vaughn accuses the Board of violating the Tribe's Law and Order Code, which states that the Tribe will protect things of historical or cultural interest from "disturbance" or "other interference." He also accuses the Board of violating another section of the code that requires building permits to show the location of the new structure in relation to neighboring lots.

Continue Reading...

Coquille Tribe's Gay Marriage Policy Challenged

A Coquille Indian Tribe member is challenging a recent decision by the Tribal Council to allow domestic partnerships and marriages regardless of sexual orientation.

Tribal member Brady Metcalf said he believes the Marriage and Domestic Partnership Ordinance should be placed on a special tribal ballot, allowing the general council to weigh in on the topic. The general council includes every adult tribal member, of which there are about 580.

“I think it’s too big of an issue to be decided upon by six people who may or may not have their own agenda,” Metcalf said Monday.

According to Tribal Attorney Brett Kenney, the new Tribe’s policy has two objectives. First, it recognizes marriages and domestic partnerships formed in other jurisdictions, such as Tribes, states, countries and provinces, for the purposes of extending tribal spousal or domestic partner benefits.

Second, the law authorizes new marriages under tribal law between both homosexual and heterosexual couples, when at least one person is a tribal member. However, these marriages can’t be initiated until the Tribal Council adopts follow-up laws addressing divorce and child custody. Kenney said it will take at least another four to five months for these potential laws to be reviewed.

“That law has been passed ... but those marriages will not begin until we can deal with the break up of those marriages under our legal system,” Kenney said.

He added that both portions of the ordinance recognize marriages and domestic partnerships regardless of the gender of the two people involved. However, there are some restrictions, such as the two parties can’t be first cousins or any closer kin, or be under the age of 18.

Kenney said the Tribal Council adopted the ordinance following more than six meetings and workshops and about a year after tribal members raised the question of the Tribe honoring same-sex relationships involving Tribal members. The ordinance passed in a 4-2 vote. Written and verbal testimony from the general council was taken through a 90-day comment period, starting Feb. 7. Notices regarding the potential ordinances were posted at locations on tribal property including the clinic, housing authority and tribal headquarters, Kenney said. A notice also appeared in the tribal newsletter.

A petition is presently circulating that would require authorization from Tribal members for he new law to go into effect. 200 signatures are needed to place the issue on a special ballot, and Mr. Metcalf reports having collected over 25% of that number so far.

The World Link has more information on the details on the Coquille Tribe’s policy and the challenge