Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Pueblos of Jemez, Santa Ana, and Zia resided along the Jemez River at a time when their lands passed from Spanish to Mexican sovereignty, and finally to the United States. In 1983, the United States initiated a water-rights adjudication for the Jemez River Basin, claiming water rights on behalf of the Pueblos. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Pueblos' aboriginal water rights were extinguished by the imposition of Spanish authority "without any affirmative adverse act." No matter the method used, the sovereign’s intent to extinguish must be clear and unambiguous; “an extinguishment cannot be lightly implied in view of the avowed solicitude of the Federal Government for the welfare of its Indian wards.” Moreover, “if there is doubt whether aboriginal title has been validly extinguished by the United States, any ‘doubtful expressions, instead of being resolved in favor of the United States, are to be resolved in favor of’ the Indians.” The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that while "All conquering sovereigns possess authority over their land and resources ... not until the sovereign exercises this authority through clear and adverse affirmative action may it extinguish aboriginal rights." View "United States v. Abouselman" on Justia Law

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Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) makes certain funds available to the recognized governing bodies of any "Indian Tribe" as that term is defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA).The DC Circuit held that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), state-chartered corporations established by Congress to receive land and money provided to Alaska Natives in settlement of aboriginal land claims, do not qualify as Indian Tribes under the CARES Act and ISDA. Therefore, ANCs are not eligible for funding under Title V of the CARES Act.The court stated that an ANC cannot qualify as an "Indian tribe" under ISDA unless it has been "recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians;" because no ANC has been federally "recognized" as an Indian tribe, as the recognition clause requires, no ANC satisfies the ISDA definition; although ANCs cannot be recognized as Indian tribes under current regulations, it was highly unsettled in 1975, when ISDA was enacted, whether Native villages or Native corporations would ultimately be recognized; and the Alaska clause does meaningful work by extending ISDA's definition of Indian tribes to whatever Native entities ultimately were recognized—even though, as things later turned out, no ANCs were recognized. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government and the intervenors, as well as the district court's denial of summary judgment to the plaintiff tribes. View "Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal for lack of standing of a tribal health organization's action seeking declaratory relief regarding alleged violations of a federal law concerning the provision of health services to Alaska Natives. The panel held that SCF alleges an injury in fact sufficient to confer Article III standing in two distinct ways: first, that ANTHC infringed SCF's governance and participation rights under Section 325 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1998 by delegating the full authority of the fifteen-member Board to the five-person Executive Committee; and second, that ANTHC erected informational barriers in the Code of Conduct and Disclosure Policy that deprived SCF of its ability to exercise effectively its governance and participation rights. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Southcentral Foundation v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Patrick Begay assaulted a man in the Navajo Nation with a baseball bat and a knife. The crime thus occurred in Indian country, within the boundaries of the reservation. Both Begay and the victim were enrolled members of the Navajo Nation. Begay was indicted in federal court on two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He pled guilty to these charges. The Probation Office issued a Presentence Report (“PSR”) calculating Begay’s guidelines imprisonment range to be 46 to 57 months. Begay requested that the court vary from this range because significantly higher penalties are imposed on Native Americans convicted of assault in New Mexico federal court than in New Mexico state court. Defense counsel requested to submit testimony regarding this asserted sentencing disparity. The government objected, arguing that under our precedents, if the district court “even considers this argument or this train of argument in any way whatsoever, any sentence rendered by the [c]ourt becomes invalid.” The sentencing judge agreed stating that she could not consider Begay’s sentencing-disparity argument pursuant to Tenth Circuit precedent. Moreover, the judge stated should would not consider the argument because the evidence Begay offered to present lacked sufficient detail to make any comparison of his sentence to state-court sentences meaningful. Begay was sentenced to 46 months' imprisonment. Although the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was sympathetic to Begay’s argument that but for an “an accident of history and geography,” he would have received a lighter sentence, the Court concluded its precedents foreclosed the consideration of federal/state sentencing disparities under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(6). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Begay" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to join a required party in an action challenging the Jamul Indian Village's efforts to build a casino. The panel held that the distinction JAC urges between historic tribes and other tribal entities organized under the Indian Reorganization Act is without basis in federal law. The panel held that Jamul Indian Village is a federally recognized Indian tribe with the same privileges and immunities, including tribal sovereign immunity, that other federally recognized Indian tribes possess. Therefore, the Village's tribal sovereign immunity extends to its officers in this case. Because the Village is protected by tribal sovereign immunity, the panel agreed with the district court that the Village cannot be joined in this action and that the action cannot proceed in equity and good conscience without it. View "Jamul Action Committee v. Simermeyer" on Justia Law

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Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law

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The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law

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During negotiations for a new tribal-state compact between the Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and California, Pauma sought authorization to offer on-track horse racing and wagering and an expanded set of lottery games. The parties met and corresponded. In 2015, Pauma triggered the 1999 Compact’s dispute resolution process. In January 2016, the state confirmed its agreement to renegotiate the 1999 Compact in full and told Pauma that it “look[ed] forward” to receiving a draft compact from Pauma with Pauma’s “plans for on-track betting.” Rather than propose a draft compact or disclose any information about the on-track facility, Pauma notified the state that it wanted to separately negotiate each item of the compact and proposed modifications to the 1999 Compact’s lottery game language. California rejected Pauma’s piecemeal negotiation approach, rejected Pauma’s lottery game language, and advised that it would send a “complete draft compact to guide our future discussions.” The subsequent 140-page draft addressed a broad array of topics. Pauma never responded but filed suit.The district court held that California satisfied its obligation to negotiate in good faith under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The state agreed to negotiate for the new types of class III gaming that Pauma sought authorization to offer, actively engaged in the negotiations, and remained willing to continue the negotiations when Pauma filed the litigation. View "Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians v. California" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that the Governor acted lawfully when he concurred in the determination of the United States Secretary of the Interior (Interior Secretary) to allow casino-style gaming on tribal trust land in California, holding that California law empowers the Governor to concur.Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq., the Interior Secretary may permit gaming on certain land taken into federal trust for an Indian tribe so long as the Governor of the state where the land is located concurs. At issue was whether the California Governor has the authority to concur in the Interior Secretary's determination to allow gaming on tribal trust land in California where the California Constitution has not granted explicit authority to concur in the cooperative-federalism scheme. The Supreme Court held that because the California Constitution, as amended in 2000, permits casino-style gaming under certain conditions on Indian and tribal lands and the Legislature imposed no restriction to the Governor's concurrence power, the Governor acted lawfully in concurring in the Interior Secretary's determination. View "United Auburn Indian Community of Auburn Rancheria v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Rosas filed a representative action based on alleged participation in illegal internet payday loan practices. Defendant AMG is a wholly-owned tribal corporation of Miami Tribe, a federally recognized Indigenous American tribe. Rosas previously challenged a court order granting AMG's motion to quash service of summons for lack of jurisdiction based on tribal sovereign immunity. On remand, the court granted AMG’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. The court accepted AMG’s argument that the arm-of-the-tribe test should be applied to the current facts relating to its ownership and control rather than the facts that existed when the complaint was filed. The court credited AMG’s new, undisputed evidence concerning significant changes made to AMG’s structure and governance since the prior court ruling—changes that removed the nontribal actors from positions of authority and control and ended its involvement in the business of financial lending.The court of appeal affirmed. The court did not exceed the scope of the remand. When a court determines that a tribal entity is entitled to immunity from suit, the court lacks the authority, absent the tribe’s consent or federal authorization, to bring the tribal entity before the court for any purpose, including for the purpose of sanctioning misconduct. View "In re Internet Lending Cases" on Justia Law