Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Oneida Nation’s Big Apple Fest is held, annually, on land partially located in the Village of Hobart. In 2016 Hobart demanded that the Nation obtain a permit and submit to some of its s laws. The Nation filed suit and held the festival without a permit. The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the Nation. The Oneida Reservation, established by treaty in 1838, remains intact, so federal law treats the land at issue as Indian country not subject to most state and local regulation. The Reservation was not diminished piece-by-piece when Congress allotted the Reservation among individual tribe members and allowed the land to be sold eventually to non‐Indians but can be diminished or disestablished only by Congress. The court noted the Supreme Court’s 2020 "McGirt" decision as “making it even more difficult to establish the requisite congressional intent to dis‐establish or diminish a reservation.” The statutory texts provide no clear indication that Congress intended to eliminate all tribal interests in allotted Oneida land; diminishment cannot be the result of Congress’s general expectation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that its actions would eventually end the reservation system. Hobart has not shown “exceptional circumstances” that could justify imposing its ordinance on the Nation within the boundaries of the Reservation. View "Oneida Nation v. Village of Hobart" on Justia Law

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An Alaska Native teenage minor affiliated with the Native Village of Kotzebue (Tribe) was taken into custody by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and placed at a residential treatment facility in Utah. She requested a placement review hearing after being injured by a facility staff member. At the time of the hearing, the minor’s mother wanted to regain custody. At the hearing the superior court had to make removal findings under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), as well as findings authorizing continued placement in a residential treatment facility under Alaska law. At the hearing, the minor’s Utah therapist testified as a mental health professional. The minor, as well as her parents and the Tribe, objected to the witness being qualified as an ICWA expert, but the superior court allowed it. The minor argued the superior court erred in determining that the witness was qualified as an expert for the purposes of ICWA. Because the superior court correctly determined that knowledge of the Indian child’s tribe was unnecessary in this situation when it relied on the expert’s testimony for its ICWA findings, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of April S." on Justia Law

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Through mediation efforts in connection with a federal lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Respondent, the Honorable J. Kevin Stitt, Governor of Oklahoma, negotiated and entered into new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes to increase state gaming revenues. The tribal gaming compacts were submitted to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they were consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were not parties to this matter; these tribes were sovereign nations and have not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The limited question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether Governor Stitt had the authority to bind the State with respect to the new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes. To this, the Supreme Court held he did not. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes authorized certain forms of Class III gaming, including house-banked card and table games and event wagering. Any gaming compact to authorize Class III gaming had to be validly entered into under state law, and it was Oklahoma law that determined whether the compact was consistent with the IGRA. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law. The State of Oklahoma was not and could not be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacted laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs obtained payday loans from AWL, an online entity owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians. The loan agreement stated that the loan was governed by tribal law and that the borrowers consented to the application of tribal law. The plaintiffs filed a purported class action, asserting that AWL charged unlawfully high interest rates, in violation of federal and Pennsylvania law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968. The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied their motion, holding that the loan agreements, which provided that only tribal law would apply in arbitration, stripped the plaintiffs of their right to assert statutory claims and were therefore unenforceable. The Third Circuit affirmed. Because AWL permits borrowers to raise disputes in arbitration only under tribal law, and such a limitation constitutes a prospective waiver of statutory rights, its arbitration agreement violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. View "Williams v. Medley Opportunity Fund II, LP" on Justia Law

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The Major Crimes Act (MCA) provides that, within “the Indian country,” “[a]ny Indian who commits” certain enumerated offenses “shall be subject to the same law and penalties as all other persons committing any of [those] offenses, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States,” 18 U.S.C. 1153(a). “Indian country” includes “all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government.” McGirt was convicted by an Oklahoma state court of sexual offenses. He unsuccessfully argued in state postconviction proceedings that the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him because he is an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation and his crimes took place on the Creek Reservation. The Supreme Court held that McGirt was entitled to a federal trial. For MCA purposes, land reserved for the Creek Nation since the 19th century remains “Indian country.” An 1856 Treaty promised that “no portion” of Creek lands “would ever be embraced or included within, or annexed to, any Territory or State,” 11 Stat. 700, and that the Creeks would have the “unrestricted right of self-government,” with “full jurisdiction” over enrolled Tribe members. Once a federal reservation is established, only Congress can diminish or disestablish it. Congress did not end the Creek Reservation during the “allotment era,” when Congress sought to pressure many tribes to abandon their communal lifestyles and parcel their lands into smaller lots owned by individual tribal members. Other limitations on the promised right to self-governance, including abolishing the Creeks’ tribal courts and requiring Presidential approval for certain tribal ordinances fell short of eliminating all tribal interest in the contested lands. Many of Oklahoma’s arguments rest “on state prosecutorial practices that defy the MCA, rather than on the law’s plain terms.” Acknowledging the potential consequences of its ruling, such as unsettling convictions and frustrating the state’s ability to prosecute future crimes, the Court stated that Oklahoma and its tribes have proven that they can work successfully together and Congress remains free to supplement its statutory directions about the lands. View "McGirt v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's imposition of a special condition of supervised release prohibiting defendant from residing in the town of Browning, Montana, which is the tribal headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, or visiting the town without prior approval of his probation officer. Defendant is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation and the special condition was imposed after he violated the conditions of his probation through alcohol and drug-related infractions. The panel held that the residency restriction is a legitimate condition of supervised release, because the condition is not an illegal banishment or exclusion. In this case, the condition allows defendant to freely travel or reside in all but one quarter square mile of the 1.5 million acres of reservation land, restricting only his access to Browning itself. Furthermore, defendant is free to visit his family, to participate in tribal life, and to receive tribal services in Browning. The panel also held that the tribe's authority does not preclude the federal government from exercising its own authority over defendant and the government's exercise of authority over defendant does not infringe the inherent sovereignty of the Blackfeet Nation. Finally, the panel held that the residency restriction is substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Many White Horses" on Justia Law

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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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Lawrence Lavallie brought this personal injury action against Lorne Jay and Michael Charette after the parties were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The accident occurred on the night of December 26, 2016, on County Road 43 in Rolette County, North Dakota. Lavallie was driving a snowmobile on the roadway followed by Charette who was driving a GMC Yukon automobile. It was dark with blowing snow and poor visibility. Jay was operating a tractor, and in the process of blowing snow from his driveway. When Lavallie came upon Jay operating the tractor, the tractor was located in the middle of the roadway and did not have any lights or reflectors. Concerned that Charette would not be able to see the tractor in the roadway because it was dark and snowing and because the tractor did not have any lights or reflectors, Lavallie stopped the snowmobile alongside the tractor and tried to get Jay’s attention for him to move the tractor off of the road. While Lavallie was on the parked snowmobile trying to get Jay’s attention, Charette struck the snowmobile. First responders transported Lavallie to the Rolla hospital. Lavallie was transferred to Grand Forks where part of his leg was amputated. Jay appealed when the district court judgment ordered him to pay Lavallie $946,421.76, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Jay conceded the district court was correct in finding the accident involving the parties in this case occurred outside the external boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the evidence in the record indicated the accident occurred on a county road located on land held in trust for the Tribe. "The question becomes whether district courts maintain subject matter jurisdiction over claims involving conduct between enrolled members of a tribe occurring on county roads located on Indian trust land." The Supreme Court found the district court did not determine whether the accident occurred on land held in trust for the Tribe. The district court also did not determine whether the parties to this action were enrolled members of the Tribe. Without such findings, the Supreme Court was unable to adequately consider whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Lavallie’s claims. Therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lavallie v. Jay, et al." on Justia Law

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The State of Washington may exercise criminal jurisdiction over members of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation who commit crimes on reservation land. The panel held that the Yakama Nation had Article III standing to seek a permanent injunction regarding the effect of a Washington State Proclamation retroceding, or giving back, criminal jurisdiction to the United States. Under 25 U.S.C. 1323(a), the Proclamation retroceded, "in part," civil and criminal jurisdiction over the Yakama Nation to the United States, but retained jurisdiction over matters "involving non-Indian defendants and non-Indian victims." Based on the entire context of the Proclamation, the panel concluded that "and" is disjunctive and must be read as "or." Therefore, the panel held that, under the Proclamation, the State retained criminal jurisdiction over cases in which any party is a non-Indian. Therefore, the panel found that the Yakama Nation has not shown actual success on the merits in order to justify a permanent injunction. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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The Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services (Department) filed a dependency petition on behalf of the newborn minor pursuant to Welf. & Inst. Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (j). The petition alleged the minor suffered, or was at substantial risk of suffering, harm due to substance abuse by mother and alleged father M.W. The petition further alleged substantial risk to the minor due to the abuse or neglect of, and eventual termination of mother’s parental rights over, the minor’s three half-siblings. Mother and M.W. reported they believed M.W. was the minor’s biological father but requested a paternity test for confirmation. Mother also reported the maternal grandfather had Native American heritage with the Apache Tribe, later confirming her claim in her parental notification of Indian status form (ICWA-020). M.W. denied having any Indian ancestry. At a detention hearing, the juvenile court made ICWA orders as to mother and ordered the minor detained. The Department interviewed mother in custody, and learned A.C. (father) could potentially be the minor's biological father. No parent was present for a January 2019 jurisdiction/disposition hearing. The court ordered the Department to continue its search for father and, upon locating him, inform him of the proceedings and his options for establishing paternity, and to make ICWA inquiry. Father appeared in court on March 27, 2019, and requested paternity testing to determine whether the minor was his biological child. By May 2019, father was given court appointed counsel, and was found to be the minor's biological father. Because family members refused to cooperate with a social worker's investigation, twelve tribes were contacted for help determining the minor's status as an Indian Child. Ten confirmed the minor was not an Indian for purposes of the ICWA, and the remainder did not respond by the time of the hearing. The court ruled the ICWA did not appeal as to the minor, and Father's parental rights to the child were ultimately terminated. He appealed, arguing the Department failed to comply with the ICWA. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's ICWA ruling and termination of parental rights. View "In re M.W." on Justia Law