Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Video Gaming Technologies, Inc. ("VGT") contended the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Collections ("Board"), the Rogers County Treasurer, and the Rogers County Assessor. VGT is a non-Indian Tennessee corporation authorized to do business in Oklahoma. VGT owns and leases electronic gaming equipment to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC (CNE), a business entity of Nation. Nation was a federally-recognized Indian tribe headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. CNE owned and operated ten gaming facilities on behalf of Nation. The questions presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether the district court properly denied VGT's motion for summary judgment and properly granted County's counter-motion for summary judgment. VGT argued that taxation of its gaming equipment was preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because the property was located on tribal trust land under a lease to Nation for use in its gaming operations. The County argued that ad valorem taxation was justified to ensure integrity and uniform application of tax law. Due to the comprehensive nature of IGRA's regulations on gaming, the federal policies which would be threatened, and County's failure to justify the tax other than as a generalized interest in raising revenue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that ad valorem taxation of gaming equipment here was preempted, and reversed the order of summary judgment, and remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order of summary judgment for VGT. View "Video Gaming Technologies v. Rogers County Bd. of Tax Roll Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's rights to his two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court erred by proceeding without applying the requirements and standards of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) during the first year of the case, but the violations did not require invalidation of the proceedings; (2) even if the Department of Public Heath and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) failed to provide proper notice of the proceedings to the Little Shell Tribe as required by ICWA, any error was harmless; (3) the Department provided Father with active efforts to reunify his family; and (4) the district court applied the correct standards when terminating Father's parental rights, and the court's finding that Father was unlikely to change in a reasonable period of time was supported by substantial evidence and not an abuse of discretion. View "In re S.B." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the family court did not err when it terminated the rights of Mother, the non-Indian mother of an Indian child who was born suffering from severe medical issues. The trial court terminated Mother's rights after applying the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), finding that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) had met the burden under the ICWA of engaging in active efforts to reunify the child with Mother, and concluding that the child would face serious emotional and physical harm if Mother was given custody of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err when she found that DCYF engaged in "active efforts" to reunify the child with mother as required by the ICWA in section 1912(d). View "In re Roman A." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court of Appeals' judgment ruling that FMC must pay an annual use permit fee for storage of hazardous waste on fee lands within the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation pursuant to a consent decree settling a prior suit brought against FMC by the EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The panel held that the judgment of the Tribal Court of Appeals was enforceable pursuant to the two exceptions under Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981). First, a tribe may regulate the activities of nonmembers who enter into consensual relationships with the tribe or its members. Second, a tribe retains inherent power to exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within its reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe. In this case, the panel held that the Tribes had regulatory jurisdiction to impose the permit fees because FMC entered into a consensual relationship when it signed a permit agreement with the Tribes. Furthermore, FMC's storage of millions of tons of hazardous waste on the Reservation fell within the second Montana exception. Finally, the panel held that the Tribal Court of Appeals did not deny FMC due process through a lack of impartiality. View "FMC Corp. v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes" on Justia Law

by
The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In this abuse and neglect case the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court's dispositional order placing three children in the legal and physical custody of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), holding that the circuit court erred by not terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights. Upon finding that Mother and Father were unable to adequately care for their three children the circuit court entered a final dispositional order placing the children in the custody of the DHHR. The guardian ad litem and DHHR appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by not terminating the parents' parental rights. The parents also appealed, contending that the circuit court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 to -1923. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of a dispositional order terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights, holding (1) there was no violation of the ICWA in this case; and (2) the best interests of the children required termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights pursuant to W. Va. Code 49-4-604(b)(6). View "In re N.R." on Justia Law