Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Wisconsin assessed property taxes on lands within four Ojibwe Indian reservations. The tribal landowners have tax immunity under an 1854 Treaty, still in effect, that created the reservations on which they live. Supreme Court cases recognize a categorical presumption against Wisconsin’s ability to levy its taxes absent Congressional approval. The parcels in question are fully alienable; their current owners can sell them at will because the parcels were sold by past tribal owners to non-Indians before coming back into tribal ownership. Wisconsin argued that the act of alienating reservation property to a non-Indian surrendered the parcel’s tax immunity. No circuit court has considered whether the sale of tax-exempt tribal land to a non-Indian ends the land’s tax immunity as against all subsequent tribal owners, nor does Supreme Court precedent supply an answer.The district court ruled in favor of the state. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Once Congress has demonstrated a clear intent to subject land to taxation by making it alienable, Congress must make an unmistakably clear statement to render it nontaxable again but these Ojibwe lands have never become alienable at Congress’s behest. Congress never extinguished their tax immunity. The relevant inquiry is: who bears the legal incidence of the tax today--all the relevant parcels are presently held by Ojibwe tribal members. View "Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin v. Evers" on Justia Law

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The Oneida Nation’s Big Apple Fest is held, annually, on land partially located in the Village of Hobart. In 2016 Hobart demanded that the Nation obtain a permit and submit to some of its s laws. The Nation filed suit and held the festival without a permit.The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the Nation. The Oneida Reservation, established by treaty in 1838, remains intact, so federal law treats the land at issue as Indian country not subject to most state and local regulation. The Reservation was not diminished piece-by-piece when Congress allotted the Reservation among individual tribe members and allowed the land to be sold eventually to non‐Indians but can be diminished or disestablished only by Congress. The court noted the Supreme Court’s 2020 "McGirt" decision as “making it even more difficult to establish the requisite congressional intent to dis‐establish or diminish a reservation.” The statutory texts provide no clear indication that Congress intended to eliminate all tribal interests in allotted Oneida land; diminishment cannot be the result of Congress’s general expectation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that its actions would eventually end the reservation system. Hobart has not shown “exceptional circumstances” that could justify imposing its ordinance on the Nation within the boundaries of the Reservation. View "Oneida Nation v. Village of Hobart" on Justia Law

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The Menominee River runs between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. According to its origin story, the Menominee Indian Tribe came into existence along the River's banks thousands of years ago. This birthplace contains artifacts and sacred sites of historic and cultural importance to the Tribe. The Tribe learned that Aquila planned a mining project alongside the River, close to Wisconsin’s northeast border. Aquila obtained Michigan permits. The Tribe contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers asking for reconsideration of a 1984 decision to allow Michigan, instead of the federal government, to issue permits under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344. The agencies responded that Michigan would decide whether to issue a “dredge-and-fill” permit to authorize Aquila’s project. The Tribe commenced an administrative proceeding in Michigan and filed suit.The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that it did not challenge any final action taken by the EPA or Army Corps. The Seventh Circuit affirmed while expressing “reservations about how the federal agencies responded to the Tribe’s concerns.” The court noted that the agency letters did not reflect any final agency decisions and that the Tribe can receive a full and fair review in a Michigan court. The Preservation Act does not require the agencies to consult with the Tribe about the project but applies only to undertakings that are “[f]ederal or federally assisted.” View "Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701–21, allows some gambling on land held in trust for tribes, in every state, without prior approval. Class III gambling, which includes slot machines and table games such as blackjack, may be offered only in certain states if the tribe and state enter into a contract. Since 199,2 Stockbridge-Munsee Community, a federally-recognized tribe, has conducted gaming in Shawano County, Wisconsin. In 2008 Ho-Chunk, another federally-recognized tribe, opened a casino in Shawano County. Both feature class III gaming, authorized by contracts. In 2016 Ho-Chunk announced plans to add more slot machines and gaming tables, plus a restaurant, a bar, and a hotel. The Community sought an injunction, arguing that the Ho-Chunk land was not held in trust for the tribe on October 17, 1988. The parcel was conveyed to the tribe in 1969, but with a condition that was not lifted until 1989; in 1986, the Department of the Interior declared the parcel to be Ho-Chunk’s trust land. The Community argued that Ho-Chunk’s state contract treats its casino as an “ancillary” gaming facility and that the state has not enforced that limitation. The court dismissed the suit as untimely, reasoning that the Community knew or could have learned of both issues by 2008. The Act does not contain a statute of limitations, so the court looked to the Wisconsin limitations period for breach of contract or the Administrative Procedure Act's limitations period—each set a six-year limit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, applying Wisconsin law. View "Stockbridge-Munsee Community v. Wisconsin" on Justia Law