Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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removed an Alaska Native child from his mother and placed him with a relative, the child experienced suicidal ideation and checked himself into a psychiatric facility. Following a period of seemingly voluntary care, OCS requested a hearing to place the child at an out-of-state secure residential psychiatric treatment facility. The child’s Tribe intervened and challenged the constitutionality of AS 47.10.087, the manner in which evidence was received, and alleged due process violations. The child joined in some of these objections. The superior court ordered the child placed at a secure residential psychiatric treatment facility per AS 47.10.087. The Tribe, but not the child, appealed the placement decision, contending primarily that the superior court erred in proceeding under AS 47.10.087 and in making its substantive findings, and plainly erred in authorizing placement pursuant to AS 47.10.087 without addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences. The Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the court’s application of AS 47.10.087 or its substantive findings, and thus affirmed the superior court’s placement determination. The Court expressed concern that the trial court failed to make required inquiries and findings related to ICWA’s placement preferences. However, this did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court did not reach the Tribe’s other arguments as the Tribe has either waived them or lacked standing to raise them. View "Tuluksak Native Community v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Srvs." on Justia Law

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A constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and approved by the electorate in the 2020 general election made a number of changes governing the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC). Those changes included alterations to the selection, qualifications, and terms of Commission members, and revision to the PRC’s constitutionally assigned responsibilities. Petitioners were three nonprofit organizations who represented the rights of Native Americans. Petitioners asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to declare the ratification of the constitutional amendment a nullity and to issue a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee of the New Mexico Compilation Commission (Advisory Committee) to remove the amendment from the Constitution. The Advisory Committee responded that Petitioners’ challenge was untimely and improperly raised against the committee through a petition for writ of mandamus, but took no position on the merits. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was granted leave to intervene in these proceedings, joined the Advisory Committee’s timeliness arguments and additionally argued that the amendment was constitutional. After hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the petition was timely, but that the amendment did not violate Article XIX, Section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution. View "Indigenous Lifeways v. N.M. Compilation Comm'n Advisory Comm." on Justia Law

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After extensive litigation, the United States, Michigan, and five federally recognized tribes entered the Great Lakes Consent Decree of 1985, governing the regulation of Great Lakes fisheries. The subsequent Consent Decree of 2000 had a 20-year term. The district court extended that Decree indefinitely “until all objections to a proposed successor decree have been adjudicated” and granted amicus status to the Coalition, which represents numerous private “sport fishing, boating, and conservancy groups” interested in protecting the Great Lakes. The Coalition has represented its own interests during negotiation sessions.As the parties were concluding their negotiations on a new decree the Coalition moved to intervene, stating that Michigan is no longer “willing or able to adequately represent the Coalition’s interests” and intends to abandon key provisions of the 2000 Decree that promote biological conservation and diversity, allocate fishery resources between sovereigns, and establish commercial and recreational fishing zones. The district court denied the Coalition’s most recent motion to intervene. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In finding the motion untimely, the district court properly considered “all relevant circumstances” including the stage of the proceedings; the purpose for the intervention; the length of time that the movant knew or should have known of its interest in the case; the prejudice to the original parties; and any unusual circumstances militating for or against intervention. View "United States v. State of Michigan" on Justia Law

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A.C. (Mother) challenged a juvenile court’s dispositional finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 did not apply to the dependency proceedings to her five children. Mother contended that San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry under Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2 (b). After review of the juvenile court record, the Court of Appeal concluded that Mother’s argument lacked merit and therefore affirmed. View "In re Ja.O." on Justia Law

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The Agency filed a Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 petition on behalf of eight children, alleging sexual abuse. Mother initially indicated that her deceased mother “had some Native ancestry.” Father reported “no Native American ancestry.” Days later, Mother reported that “she is not Native American and she paid for genetic testing.” At the detention hearing, Mother’s counsel represented that Mother has no Indian ancestry that she knows. The juvenile court responded: "Maybe there was a misunderstanding. I’ll make a finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1901) does not apply.” Mother's ICWA-020 form indicated “no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Father's form indicated “None.” The maternal aunt and the paternal grandfather both reported no documented information about Native American ancestry.After the contested hearing, the juvenile court declared dependency. A maternal cousin, the grandfather, and an aunt attended. The court again asked about Native American ancestry. The parents responded no. The court's finding that ICWA did not apply was included in the order.The parents did not challenge the jurisdictional findings or the dispositional orders but alleged that the Agency failed to satisfy its initial duty of inquiry into the children’s possible Native American heritage. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting their contention that the Agency was required to interview five additional extended family members, acknowledging that the Agency and the juvenile court have an “affirmative and continuing” duty of inquiry. View "In re E.W." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and obstruction of justice. On appeal, Defendant challenged several district court decisions that span from indictment through sentencing.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because both the stop and the search of the Pontiac were supported by probable cause, the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s suppression motion. Moreover, Defendant offered nothing to suggest the government violated that order by making use of the suppressed documents or information gleaned from them at trial. Accordingly, the court discerned no abuse of discretion in the remedy crafted by the district court. The court explained that under the facts of this case, Defendant has failed to show that Section 1503(a) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him.   Further, the court explained that the government also presented evidence that Defendant had knowledge of the firearm. The gun was recovered from inside a red drawstring bag in the Pontiac, and surveillance footage showed Defendant leaving a Walmart carrying the same distinctive red bag one hour before the Pontiac was stopped. Finally, the government presented evidence that Defendant, on occasion, traded methamphetamine for guns. Under these facts, a jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Milk knowingly possessed the firearm as charged. View "United States v. Wicahpe Milk" on Justia Law

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The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe (the Upper Skagit tribe) claimed that the usual and accustomed fishing areas of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (the Sauk tribe) under a 1974 decision do not include the Skagit River, and therefore that decision did not authorize the Sauk tribe to open salmon fisheries on that river. The dispute, in this case, relates to the meaning of Finding of Fact 131 in Final Decision I, which defines the Sauk tribe’s U&As   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Upper Skagit tribe. The court concluded that the district court intended to omit the Skagit River from the Sauk tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing areas. The panel agreed with the Upper Skagit tribe’s contention that Finding of Fact 131 clearly and unambiguously established Judge Boldt’s intent not to include the Skagit River in the Sauk tribe’s U&As. The panel held that if Judge Boldt intended to include the Skagit River in the U&As of the Sauk tribe, he would have used that specific term, as he did elsewhere. The panel held that the Lane Report, on which Judge Boldt heavily relied, reinforced its conclusion. The panel held that none of the statements undermined its conclusion that Judge Boldt’s intent was clear or showed that he intended to include the Skagit River in the U&As contrary to the plain text of Finding of Fact 131. View "UPPER SKAGIT INDIAN TRIBE, ET AL V. SAUK-SUIATTLE INDIAN TRIBE" on Justia Law

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The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation California (Chumash) appealed a judgment following the granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) in Chumash’s lawsuit against Lexington for denial of insurance coverage.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court concluded that, among other things, Chumash did not present sufficient evidence to show that the COVID-19 virus caused physical property damage to its casino and resort so as to fall within the property damage coverage provisions of the Lexington insurance policy. The court explained that had the Chumash Casino and Resort sustained property damage, it was required to specify what property was damaged and to submit a claim for the dollar amount of that loss. The absence of such information supports Lexington’s decision to deny coverage. View "Santa Ynez Band of Chumash etc. v. Lexington Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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After the Carter County, Oklahoma District Court adjudicated S.J.W. (child) as deprived, Parents-appellants appealed. S.J.W., through child's attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. S.J.W. claimed the Chickasaw Nation had exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(a) based on the plain language in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), because S.J.W. resided within the Chickasaw reservation, notwithstanding the fact that S.J.W. was an Indian child and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Parents raised two issues to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: (1) whether Oklahoma courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a nonmember Indian child's deprived case arising in Carter County, which was completely within the external, territorial boundaries of the Chickasaw reservation; and (2) if the court did have jurisdiction, whether a delay in the adjudication hearing deprived Parents of their due process rights. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court held the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate S.J.W. deprived. Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(b), the State of Oklahoma shared concurrent territorial jurisdiction with an Indian child's tribe when the Indian child is not domiciled or residing on the Indian child's tribe's reservation. "In our dual federalism system, an Oklahoma district court's subject matter jurisdiction may be limited by the Oklahoma or U.S. Constitution. U.S. Const., amend. X; Okla. Const. art. I, §§ 1, 7(a)." In addition, the Supreme Court found no violation of the Parents' right to due process of law as any delay was not "arbitrary, oppressive or shocking to the conscience of the court," and Parents had a meaningful opportunity to defend throughout the proceeding. View "In the Matter of S.J.W." on Justia Law

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The Tribes sued the State of California for its failure to comply with IGRA. In an earlier opinion (Chicken Ranch I), the panel ruled for the Tribes, first noting that California Government Code Section 98005 explicitly waived the state’s sovereign immunity from suit. The panel held that California violated IGRA by failing to negotiate in good faith a Class III gaming compact with the Tribes, and it ordered the district court to implement IGRA’s remedial framework. After prevailing, the Tribes sought attorneys’ fees spent litigating the Chicken Ranch I appeal.   The Ninth Circuit denied the request for attorneys’ fees. The panel held that because the Tribes prevailed on a federal cause of action, they were entitled to attorneys’ fees only if federal law allowed them. Because it did not, the panel denied the Tribes’ fee request. The panel rejected the Tribes’ argument that there is an exception authorizing attorneys’ fees in federal question cases when the claims implicate “substantial and significant issues of state law.” The panel distinguished Independent Living Center of Southern California, Inc. v. Kent, 909 F.3d 272 (9th Cir. 2018), in which there was no federal cause of action but there was federal question jurisdiction over a state-law claim that fell within a small category cases where a federal issue is necessarily raised, actually disputed, substantial, and capable of resolution in federal court without disturbing the federal-state balance approved by Congress. View "CHICKEN RANCH RANCHERIA, ET AL V. STATE OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL" on Justia Law