Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
M.J. (Mother) appeals the order entered following the jurisdiction and disposition hearing in the juvenile dependency case of her minor child, D.S. D.S. was living with his paternal aunt (Aunt), later determined to be his presumed mother. The Agency alleged D.S.'s father was deceased, Mother had previously caused the death of another minor, and Aunt was no longer able to care for D.S. As discussed in the detention report, Mother's parental rights were terminated after she was charged and convicted of killing D.S.'s brother. D.S. had been placed in the care of his father, who subsequently died suddenly in March 2018. Aunt assumed care for D.S., but reported to the Agency that she could not currently care for D.S. due to her own health issues. In a report prepared for the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the Agency detailed its inquiry into whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applied to the proceedings. The Agency stated: (1) Mother denied having any Indian heritage; (2) D.S.'s great-grandmother stated that her great-grandmother (D.S.'s great-great-great-great-grandmother) was "affiliated with the Sioux and Blackfeet tribes;" (3) Aunt denied that she or [her grandmother] have ever lived on an Indian reservation, have a tribal enrollment number or identification card indicating membership/citizenship in an Indian tribe; and (4) Aunt denied she has any reason to believe D.S. was an Indian child. Mother contended the court erred by not complying with the inquiry provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Court of Appeal concluded after review that the juvenile court's finding that the Agency completed its further inquiry was supported by the evidence. Similarly, there is substantial evidence supporting the juvenile court's conclusion that "there is no reason to believe or know that [ICWA] applies." View "In re D.S." on Justia Law

by
At issue in consolidated appeals before the Alaska Supreme Court were the custody proceedings involving the same child before two courts of independent sovereignty: the State of Alaska and the Native Village of Barrow (NVB). A child custody case was initiated in the Utqiagvik superior court. Thereafter, NVB, through its tribal court, took custody of the child in a tribal child in need of aid (CINA) case. In 2016 the superior court ultimately denied the mother’s state court motion to modify custody. NVB sought to intervene in the state custody case, but the superior court denied its motion. The mother appealed the superior court’s denial of her motion to modify custody; NVB appealed the order denying its motion to intervene. The Alaska Supreme Court determined that under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a superior court receiving a tribal court order to determine whether the order was issued in an ICWA-defined child custody proceeding and, if it was, was mandated to follow ICWA section 1911(d)’s full faith and credit mandate. The superior court erred in ruling that the NVB tribal court lacked jurisdiction without following the procedures underlying the process for giving full faith and credit to a tribal court order. View "Native Village of Barrow v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the juvenile court's disposition order removing father's children from his custody and continuing their placement in foster care. The court held that CWS was required to complete its Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) inquiry and notification process at least 10 days before the disposition hearing, because CWS sought continuance of foster care. Accordingly, the court remanded to the juvenile court for the limited purpose of allowing CWS to comply with ICWA. View "In re N.D." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's interlocutory orders denying BNSF's motion for summary judgment on the Tribe's claim that BNSF violated a right-of-way and easement agreement limiting train traffic across the Tribe's reservation. The panel affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) does not repeal the Indian Right of Way Act and does not defeat the Tribe's right to enforce conditions in a right-of-way easement agreement issued pursuant to the Right of Way Act; the ICCTA does not abrogate the Treaty of Point Elliott and the Tribe's treaty-based federal common law right to exclude and condition a third-party's presence on, and use of, Reservation lands; and the Tribe has the right to pursue injunctive relief to enforce the terms of the Easement Agreement. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions and rejecting Defendant's argument that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate that he was an Indian for purposes of the federal Indian Major Crimes Act (IMCA) such that he was not subject to the jurisdiction of North Carolina's courts. Defendant was charged in Jackson County with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendant moved to dismiss the charges for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that he was an Indian, and therefore, he could only be tried in federal court pursuant to the IMCA. After a hearing, the trial court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss, determining that Defendant was not an Indian within the meaning of the IMCA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss; and (2) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's request for a special jury verdict. View "State v. Nobles" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the order of the district court finding that the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) incorrectly approved the taking of two areas of land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe, holding that the plain meaning of the text of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) precluded the BIA's interpretation of 25 U.S.C. 5129. The Tribe planned to use land taken into trust in Mashpee, Massachusetts primarily for housing and planning to use land in Taunton, Massachusetts for economic activities. In approving the taking of the two areas of land into trust for the Tribe the BIA construed 25 U.S.C. 5129 to permit it to accept lands for the Tribe. The district court remanded the matter to the BIA, finding that the BIA incorrectly read the statute as giving it authority to take land into trust for the Tribe. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the IRA unambiguously foreclosed the BIA's interpretation of 25 U.S.C. 5129; and (2) therefore, the BIA lacked authority to take land into trust for the benefit of the Tribe. View "Littlefield v. Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying a tribal entity's motion to dismiss a tort action against it, holding that the tribal entity did not prove it was a subordinate economic organization entitled to share the Indian tribe's sovereign immunity. Sara Fox was seriously injured while rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Fox suffered her injuries on Arizona state land. The rafting boat was operated by Grand Canyon Resort Corporation (GCRC), a tribal corporation whose sole shareholder was a federal recognized Indian tribe, the Hualapai Indian Tribe. Fox and her husband filed suit against GCRC and the Tribe. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction because Defendants possessed sovereign immunity from suit. The trial court dismissed the complaint against the Tribe but declined to dismiss the complaint against GCRC, finding it was not protected by sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that GCRC failed to carry its burden to show it was a subordinate economic organization of the Tribe so that a denial of immunity would "appreciably impair" the Tribe's "economic development, cultural autonomy, or self-governance." View "Hwal'Bay Ba: J Enterprises, Inc. v. Honorable Jantzen" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Riverside County, California could impose a tax on possessory interests in federally owned land set aside for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians or its members. In 1971, Court held that it could, holding in part that federal law did not preempt the tax. The tax was also upheld that year by the Ninth Circuit. Since then, the United States Supreme Court articulated a new preemption framework in considering whether states may tax Indian interests, and the Department of the Interior promulgated new Indian leasing regulations, the preamble of which stated that state taxation was precluded. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal concluded, as it did in 1971, this possessory interest tax was valid. View "Herpel v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

by
The Narragansett Tribe petitioned for review of the Commission's order denying its motion to intervene in a natural gas pipeline certificate proceeding after the certificate to build a pipeline had issued. While the Tribe awaited the Commission's action on its pending motion to intervene and its separate motion for reconsideration of an order allowing construction to commence, the pipeline was completed. In the process, more than twenty ceremonial stone features were destroyed. The Tribe then petitioned for review seeking only an order compelling the Commission to amend its regulation so that it cannot repeat the alleged violations of the National Historic Preservation Act in the future. The DC Circuit held that the Tribe lacked standing to seek such relief because it has not shown a substantial risk that a similar disagreement between it and the Commission will recur. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition based on lack of jurisdiction. View "Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the county court establishing a guardianship for an Indian child, holding that the guardianship proceeding was governed by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Act (NICWA) and that the required showing under ICWA and NICWA was not made in this case. Grandmother sought to establish a guardianship for a Native American child over the objection of Mother. At the conclusion of the evidence at trial, the county court stated that it had found a sufficient basis for the appointment of Grandmother as the child's guardian. The court did not mention ICWA or NICWA in its written order appointing Grandmother as guardian for the child. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the cause with directions to vacate the guardianship, holding (1) ICWA and NICWA applied to the guardianship proceeding; and (2) the guardianship proceeding failed to comply with ICWA and NICWA. View "In re Guardianship of Eliza W." on Justia Law