Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Linus and Raymond Poitra appeal the district court judgment of eviction. The Poitras argue the district court erred by exercising jurisdiction over this matter, and by sending a North Dakota law enforcement officer onto the reservation to evict tribal members from property within the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the Poitras did not meet their burden under either "Montana" exception, and did not explain how a district court was divested of subject matter jurisdiction to grant a judgment of eviction. The district court judgment was therefore affirmed. View "Gustafson v. Poitra, et al." on Justia Law

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The United States sought to enjoin the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe and several individual members from selling hunting and fishing licenses that authorized members to take wildlife from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe was not a federally recognized Indian tribe, but it nonetheless claimed to have tribal rights, including hunting and fishing rights, related to the Reservation. The district court held the Tribe had no authority to issue licenses. The court, however, declined to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance of future licenses against both the individual defendants and the Tribe. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe lacks authority to issue hunting and fishing licenses, and found the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue a permanent injunction. View "United States v. Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a subproceeding brought by the Muckleshoot seeking to expand their usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations (U&As) to certain areas of Puget Sound beyond Elliott Bay. The panel held that the district court did not err in holding that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain this subproceeding. In this case, the district court properly held that Muckleshoot's saltwater U&As in Puget Sound had already been "specifically determined" in their entirety by Judge Boldt in Final Decision #1, and accordingly, there was no continuing jurisdiction under Paragraph 25(a)(6) to entertain the present subproceeding. View "Muckleshoot Indian Tribe v. Tulalip Tribes" on Justia Law