Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding, following a bench trial, that the Yakama Reservation includes a 121,465.69-acre tract (Tract D) that partially overlaps with Klickitat County. The present dispute between the Yakamas and Klickitat County arose when the County attempted to prosecute P.T.S., a minor and enrolled Yakama member, for acts that occurred within Tract D. Contending that Klickitat County lacked jurisdiction to prosecute P.T.S. for an incident that took place within Tract D, the Yakamas filed suit against the County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.Under the highly deferential clear error standard, the panel upheld the district court's findings that the spur described in the Treaty does not exist and that the Yakamas understood the Treaty to include Tract D within the Reservation's boundaries. Applying de novo review, the panel concluded that the Treaty language is inherently ambiguous. Consequently, in light of the Indian canon of construction, the panel agreed with the district court's interpretation that the Treaty included Tract D within the Reservation. Finally, the panel held that Congress did not conclusively exclude Tract D from the Reservation through the 1904 Act. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Klickitat County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the DOI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, federal officials, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, in an action brought by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, challenging the Secretary of DOI's decision determining that the Spokane Tribe of Indians' proposed gaming establishment on newly acquired off-reservation land would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. Kalispel raised challenges pursuant to the the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.The panel held that IGRA requires the Secretary to weigh and consider the various interests of those within the surrounding community when deciding whether additional off-reservation gaming would be detrimental to the surrounding community. A showing that additional gaming may be detrimental to some members of the surrounding community, including an Indian tribe, does not dictate the outcome of the Secretary's two-step determination. The panel agreed with the DC Circuit and rejected Kalispel's argument that any detriment to Kalispel precluded the Secretary from issuing a favorable two-part determination. Rather, the panel concluded that the Secretary had the authority to issue a two-step determination, and the Secretary's decision to issue a favorable decision here was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The panel declined to reach the merits of Kalispel's contention, which was not advanced in the district court, that the Secretary previously announced a policy that additional off-reservation gaming would not be approved if a nearby Indian tribe could show that additional gaming would be detrimental to it. Finally, the panel concluded that Kalispel has not shown that the Secretary failed to consider its claimed harms or to comply with the relevant statutes and regulations, and thus it has not shown that the Secretary violated the federal government's trust duty owed to Kalispel. View "Kalispel Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Crow Police Officer Saylor approached a truck parked on U.S. Highway 212, a public right-of-way within the Crow Reservation in Montana. Saylor observed that the driver, Cooley, appeared to be non-native and had watery, bloodshot eyes. Saylor saw two semi-automatic rifles, a glass pipe, and a plastic bag that contained methamphetamine. Additional officers, including an officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, arrived. Saylor was directed to seize all contraband in plain view, leading Saylor to discover more methamphetamine. Cooley, charged with drug and gun offenses, successfully moved to suppress the drug evidence. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court vacated. Tribal police officers have authority to detain temporarily and to search non-Indian persons traveling on public rights-of-way running through a reservation for potential violations of state or federal law; they are not required to first determine whether a suspect is non-Indian and, if so, to temporarily detain a non-Indian only for “apparent” legal violations. Generally, the inherent sovereign powers of an Indian tribe do not extend to the activities of nonmembers of the tribe, but a tribe retains inherent authority over the conduct of non-Indians on the reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the health or welfare of the tribe. When the jurisdiction to try and punish an offender rests outside the tribe, tribal officers may exercise their power to detain the offender and transport him to the proper authorities; the authority to search that individual before transport is ancillary to that authority. View "United States v. Cooley" on Justia Law

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A Mother appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating her parental rights to her children, Isaiah R. and Summer R., who were four years old and one year old when removed from her custody in 2017. Her only challenge on appeal was that the court found the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) didn’t apply to the children despite a report by both maternal grandparents revealing that their great-grandmother was a member of the Yaqui of Arizona. Mother and father were present at the initial detention hearing and both denied having Indian ancestry; the trial judge found ICWA didn’t apply. Both parents failed to reunify, and the maternal grandparents sought custody. At the Welfare and Institutions Code section 366 permanency planning review hearing, the grandparents completed forms where they indicated the children had Indian ancestry. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mother that the grandparents’ disclosure triggered a duty for the Children and Family Services department to inquire further, and therefore conditionally reversed the order terminating parental rights and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

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For centuries, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians inhabited what is now northern Michigan. The federal government took tribal land for settlers. The Band was determined to stay in their territory. The Treaty of 1836 ceded almost 14 million acres of land to the government in exchange for a temporary reservation in Little Traverse Bay, and thereafter, land west of the Mississippi. The government promised the Band $200,000 “whenever their reservations shall be surrendered.” The Treaty expired in 1841, but the government abandoned its plan to move the Band west.The Treaty of 1855 described the specific tracts, provided certain tribal members with acreage, required them to make land selections within specific periods, and reserved ownership of land not timely selected for the government. The government delayed the land selections and failed to timely provide land titles. In 1949 and 1951, before the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), the Band alleged “grossly inadequate and unconscionable” consideration. ICC found that the tribes had ceded 12,044,934 acres and retained 401,971 acres, concluded that the Band was owed $10,109,003.55, and rejected a claim that the Band was owed compensation for land that was never allotted under the 1855 Treaty.In 2015, the Band sought a declaration that the 1855 Treaty created a reservation for the Band. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Treaty provided for allotments of land, which would not fall under federal superintendence, rather than a collective Indian reservation. Under the Treaty’s language, its precedent negotiations, and practical construction, the land cannot be said to be “validly set apart for the use of the Indians . . . under the superintendence of the [federal] [g]overnment.” View "Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Governor's authority to concur in the decision of the United States Secretary of the Interior to take 305 acres of land in Madera County into trust for North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians for the purpose of operating a casino. The trial court sustained demurrers by North Fork and the state defendants. In 2016, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment of dismissal, concluding the Governor lacked the authority to concur in the Interior Secretary's determination to take the Madera site into trust. The California Supreme Court granted review and held this case pending its decision in United Auburn Indian Community of Auburn Rancheria v. Newsom (2020) 10 Cal.5th 538. The Supreme Court transferred this case back to this court after deciding that California law empowers the Governor to concur. The Supreme Court directed this court to vacate its decision and to reconsider the matter in light of United Auburn.The Court of Appeal concluded that the facts of this case are distinguishable from those in United Auburn because at the November 2014 general election California voters rejected the Legislature's ratification of the tribal-state compact for gaming at the Madera site. The court concluded that the people retained the power to annul a concurrence by the Governor and the voters exercised this retained power at the 2014 election by impliedly revoking the concurrence for the Madera site. Consequently, the concurrence is no longer valid, and the demurrer should have been overruled. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of dismissal and directed the trial court to vacate its order sustaining the demurrers and enter a new order overruling them. View "Stand Up for California! v. California" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paddy Platero pleaded guilty to a charge of “[a]busive sexual contact” with a child under 12 in Indian country. In computing Defendant’s guideline sentencing range, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico increased his base offense level on the ground that “the offense involved conduct described in 18 U.S.C. [section] 2241(a) or (b).” Defendant read the guideline as requiring a violation of section 2241(a) or (b). Section 2241 defined the offense of aggravated sexual abuse, not the lesser offense of abusive sexual contact of which Defendant was convicted. Defendant therefore appealed his sentence, contending that his base offense level should not have been increased. The Tenth Circuit rejected Defendant’s reading of Guideline 2A3.4(a)(1): “In context, the only reasonable interpretation of the guideline is that the reference to “conduct described in 18 U.S.C. 2241(a) or (b)” is a reference to the conduct described in [section] 2241 that distinguishes aggravated sexual abuse, which is governed by that section, from sexual abuse in general, which is governed by [section] 2242. Defendant’s interpretation of USSG 2A3.4(a)(1) must be avoided because it would eliminate any possible application of the provision, rendering it useless; and our interpretation finds support in both the history of 2A3.4(a)(1) and the statutory scheme, which sets penalties for the various types of abusive sexual contact set forth in section 2244 by reference to the conduct that distinguishes from one another the various types of sexual abuse prohibited by [sections] 2241, 2242, and 2243 – that is, by reference to the various means employed to commit sexual abuse.” View "United States v. Platero" on Justia Law

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On May 15, 1915, the State of Washington charged Alec Towessnute, a Yakama tribal member, with multiple fishing crimes. These criminal charges stemmed from the fact that he was fishing in the usual and accustomed waters of the Yakama tribe the day before without a state-issued fishing license using an unpermitted fishing hook. The parties stipulated that the United States had entered into a treaty with the Yakama Nation on June 9, 1855 (ratified by the United States Senate on March 8, 1859), and that the area where Mr. Towessnute fished “has been used and enjoyed by said Indians during the fishing season of each and every year since said treaty was made; that said fishing place has from time immemorial been used and enjoyed by said Indians and their ancestors and known by the Indian name of ‘Top-tut’.” Mr. Towessnute objected to the charges. Relying on the stipulation, he explained that Benton County had no jurisdiction over the matter because he had committed no crime by exercising his treaty fishing rights. The trial court judge agreed: on June 10, 1915, Benton County Superior Court entered a final judgment in the matter, dismissing all the charges against Mr. Towessnute. The 1916 Washington Supreme Court reversed, mandating that the criminal charges be reinstated, overruling Mr. Towessnute’s objections. In 2015, the descendants of Mr. Towessnute sought vacation of any record of conviction against Mr. Towessnute. Given that such a conviction could not be proved by the record, the trial court declined to take any action. Under the Rules of Appellate Procedure (RAP) 1.2(c), the 2021 Washington Supreme Court acted to waive any of the RAP “to serve the ends of justice.” The mandate issued by the Washington Supreme Court in 1916 was recalled and any conviction existing then or now against Mr. Towessnute was vacated. View "Washington v. Towessnute" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of jurisdiction, of Navajo Nation's breach of trust claim alleging that Federal Appellees failed to consider the Nation's as-yet-undetermined water rights in managing the Colorado River. Several states intervened to protect their interests in the Colorado's waters.The panel concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint because, in contrast to the district court's determination, the amendment was not futile. The panel explained that, although the Supreme Court retained original jurisdiction over water rights claims to the Colorado River in Arizona I, the Nation's complaint does not seek a judicial quantification of rights to the River, so the panel need not decide whether the Supreme Court's retained jurisdiction is exclusive. Furthermore, contrary to the Intervenors' arguments on appeal, the Nation's claim is not barred by res judicata, despite the federal government's representation of the Nation in Arizona I. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred in denying the Nation's motion to amend and in dismissing the Nation's complaint. In this case, the complaint properly stated a breach of trust claim premised on the Nation's treaties with the United States and the Nation's federally reserved Winters rights, especially when considered along with the Federal Appellees' pervasive control over the Colorado River. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to permit the Nation to amend its complaint. View "Navajo Nation v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court terminating Respondents' parental rights to their child, holding that the trial court impermissibly failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act.After a hearing, the trial court entered an order in which it determined that grounds existed to terminate Respondents' parental rights and concluded that termination of Respondents' parental rights was in the child's best interests. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a new hearing on termination of Respondents' parental rights, holding that the trial court did not comply with 25 C.F.R. 23.107(a) and therefore could not determine whether it had reason to know that the child was an Indian child. View "In re M.L.B." on Justia Law