Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Nation and some of its officials filed suit against the Village of Union Springs and certain of its officials, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) preempts the Village's ordinance regulating gambling as applied to the Nation's operation of a bingo parlor on a parcel of land located within both the Village and the Nation's federal reservation, and for corresponding injunctive relief.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Nation, agreeing with the district court that neither issue nor claim preclusion bars this suit and that IGRA preempts contrary Village law because the parcel of land at issue sits on "Indian lands" within the meaning of that Act. View "Cayuga Nation v. Tanner" on Justia Law

by
A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
Indian Health Services (IHS) previously provided health care to the federally recognized Tribe through a clinic in McDermitt, Nevada, and an emergency medical services program. Federal law entitles members of other tribes also to receive care at the clinic. In 2016, the Tribe notified IHS of its intent to assume responsibility for the clinic and part of the EMS program. The Tribe requested about $603,000 annually to provide medical care at the clinic. IHS awarded only about $53,000. The parties disputed whether the Tribe was entitled to all the funds that IHS previously had spent on the clinic or whether the agency could withhold the portion of those funds to benefit members of another tribe. IHS allocates generally funding among health care programs according to the number of eligible users living in the tribe's assigned. IHS funded the clinic to benefit the Tribe and the nearby Winnemucca Tribe. IHS argued that it could not include Winnemucca’s “tribal share” of clinic funding without that tribe’s consent. The parties disputed the treatment of third-party income from Medicare and Medicaid, which the Tribe now collects directly. The Tribe assumed full control of the clinic, filed suit, and obtained summary judgment.The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25 U.S.C. 5321(a), did not permit withholding of the amount budgeted as benefitting members of the second tribe but did permit withholding an amount equal to the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. View "Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the final dispositional order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father, the biological parents of C.R.W., holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.C.R.W. was the subject of an abuse and neglect proceeding before the circuit court. C.R.W. was considered an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Act pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1903(4), and the Oglala Sioux Tribe intervened in the proceeding. The Tribe moved to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney on the grounds that the attorney had a conflict of interest with C.R.W. The circuit court denied the motion. During the proceedings, Mother and the Tribe moved to transfer the case to tribal court, but the motion was denied. After the parents' parental rights were terminated, Mother and the Tribe appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err when it denied the Tribe's motions to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother's motions to transfer jurisdiction. View "In re C.R.W." on Justia Law

by
Charles Williams was a Colorado prisoner who practiced a Native American religion that used tobacco in sweat lodges. The ceremonies were possible because prison officials specified where inmates could use tobacco in religious services. In 2018, prison officials confiscated tobacco from a prisoner and suspected that it had come from Williams’s religious group. Prison officials responded with a 30-day ban on the use of tobacco for religious services. Weeks later, prison officials imposed a lockdown and modified operations, including an indefinite suspension of Native American religious services. Despite this suspension, prison officials allowed Christian and Islamic groups to continue their religious services because outside volunteers could provide supervision. The complaint implied that the suspension lasted at least nine days. Williams sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging in part that prison officials violated the First Amendment. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Williams’s allegations had overcome qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concurred: because Williams adequately alleged the violation of a clearly established constitutional right, he has overcome qualified immunity. So the denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss was affirmed. View "Williams v. Borrego" on Justia Law

by
The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his two children after finding them children in need of aid because of their father’s domestic violence and aggressive behavior. The children were Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Therefore the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) was required to make active efforts to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the family. At the termination trial, the superior court found clear and convincing evidence that OCS made active efforts but that these efforts proved unsuccessful. The father appealed, arguing only that the superior court’s active efforts finding was made in error. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the termination order. View "Ronald H. v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

by
Charles W. Sr. (Father) challenged a juvenile court's finding regarding his children Charles W. Jr. (Jr.), S.W., and R.W., that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply. He contended there was an insufficient inquiry of the mother’s ancestry. The children’s parents have a history of substance abuse. In a prior dependency case, the parents admitted to their use of methamphetamine. In January 2019, the juvenile court found ICWA did not apply in the proceeding. In July 2020, after completing her reunification services, the children’s mother (Mother) was granted sole custody of Jr. and S.W. Father did not complete his reunification services. Several months later in late September, R.W. was born to Mother and Father. In December 2020, police officers responded to the hotel room where the family was living and seized a large quantity of illicit drugs, which were accessible to the three young children. Both parents were arrested on drug-related charges, and they admitted to using drugs. Mother told the assigned social worker she had Yaqui and Aztec heritage but she “already went through the Court process,” and the court had found ICWA did not apply. Days later, the state filed dependency petitions on behalf of all three children; the Agency submitted a completed form ICWA-010(A), indicating Mother’s report of “Yaqui and Aztec Native American heritage” and Father’s denial of Indian heritage. The Agency also filled out a “field worksheet for updating client demographics.” On this worksheet, as to ICWA applicability (“ICWA?”), the Agency marked “No” for the two older children and made no marking for R.W. Further, for each child, a tribal affiliation of “Sioux” was denoted. At a dispositional hearing at which mother and her counsel attended, Native American ancestry was denied: “I spoke to my client this morning. She has no Native American ancestry. She does have some ancestry through central Mexico.” The court went on to “reconfirm ICWA does not apply at this time based on the information provided to the court and the reaffirmation of no Native American ancestry as stated and will be provided on the 020 form by Mother’s counsel." The Court of Appeal disagreed with Father's contention that the juvenile court and Agency did not make a sufficient inquiry as to the children's ancestry before finding the ICWA did not apply. "[G]iven the prior ICWA finding regarding this family and the parents’ unequivocal denials of Indian ancestry, we do not find it reasonably probable that further inquiry based on the record before us would yield a different result." View "In re Charles W., Jr." on Justia Law

by
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2719, allows a federally recognized Indian tribe to conduct gaming on lands taken into trust by the Secretary of the Interior as of October 17, 1988 and permits gaming on lands that are thereafter taken into trust for an Indian tribe that is restored to federal recognition where the tribe establishes a significant historical connection to the particular land. Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians regained its federal recognition in 1991 and requested an opinion on whether a Vallejo parcel would be eligible for tribal gaming. Yocha Dehe, a federally recognized tribe, objected. The Interior Department concluded that Scotts Valley failed to demonstrate the requisite “significant historical connection to the land.” Scotts Valley challenged the decision.Yocha Dehe moved to intervene to defend the decision alongside the government, explaining its interest in preventing Scotts Valley from developing a casino in the Bay Area, which would compete with Yocha Dehe’s gaming facility, and that the site Scotts Valley seeks to develop "holds cultural resources affiliated with [Yocha Dehe’s] Patwin ancestors.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Yocha Dehe’s motion, citing lack of standing. Injuries from a potential future competitor are neither “imminent” nor “certainly impending.” There was an insufficient causal link between the alleged threatened injuries and the challenged agency action, given other steps required before Scotts Valley could operate a casino. Resolution of the case would not “as a practical matter impair or impede” the Tribe’s ability to protect its interests. View "Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
In consolidated appeals, a mother challenged decisions by the family division of the superior court denying her motions for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal and to vacate the order terminating her parental rights to K.S., and concluding that K.S. was not an Indian child for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In March 2018, a relative reported that mother had “tossed” K.S. onto a bed during a family argument and that father had used excessive physical discipline on K.S.’s older brother. K.S. was later found to have a buckle fracture on her wrist, which her parents were unable to explain. The Department for Children and Families (DCF) sought and obtained emergency custody of K.S. and her brother, and filed petitions alleging that they were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Mother and father later stipulated to the merits of the CHINS petitions. At the October hearing, mother testified that she understood that she was permanently giving up her parental rights, that her decision was voluntary, and that she believed the decision was in K.S.’s best interests. The court accepted the parties’ stipulations and granted the termination petitions. In December 2019, mother hired a new attorney, who filed a motion for relief from the termination order pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Mother alleged that the attorney who represented her at the relinquishment hearing had rendered ineffective assistance, that the underlying facts did not support termination of mother’s parental rights, and that her relinquishment was involuntary because she did not understand the proceedings. The family division denied the motion, finding that mother’s relinquishment was knowing and voluntary and not the result of coercion by DCF or the foster parents. The court further concluded that it was not required to conduct a separate "best interests" analysis when mother voluntarily relinquished her rights, and she failed to establish that her counsel’s performance was ineffective. Mother untimely filed her notice of appeal, and while a decision on the untimely notice was pending, she filed a second motion to vacate the termination order, adding the argument that the court failed to give notice to the Cherokee tribes or to apply the substantive provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the termination orders. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law

by
Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates $8 billion to “Tribal governments” to compensate for unbudgeted expenditures made in response to COVID–19, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(2)(B). A “Tribal government” is the “recognized governing body of an Indian tribe” as defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), which refers to “any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” 25 U.S.C. 5304(e).Consistent with the Department of the Interior’s view that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are Indian tribes under ISDA, the Department of the Treasury determined that ANCs are eligible for Title V relief, although ANCs are not “federally recognized tribes” (i.e., tribes with which the United States has entered into a government-to-government relationship). Federally recognized tribes sued. The D.C. Circuit reinstated the suit following summary judgment.The Supreme Court reversed. ANCs are “Indian tribe[s]” under ISDA and eligible for funding under Title V.. ANCs are “established pursuant to” ANCSA and “recognized as eligible” for that Act’s benefits. ANCSA, which made ANCs eligible to select tens of millions of acres of land and receive hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars, 43 U.S.C. 1605, 1610, 1611, is a special program provided by the United States to “Indians.” Given that ANCSA is the only statute ISDA’s “Indian tribe” definition mentions by name, eligibility for ANCSA’s benefits satisfies the definition’s “recognized-as-eligible” clause. The Court noted that even if ANCs did not satisfy the recognized-as-eligible clause, they would still satisfy ISDA’s definition of an “Indian tribe.” View "Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation" on Justia Law