Articles Posted in Native American Law

by
The Wyandot Nation of Kansas, a Native American tribe allegedly tracing its ancestry to the Historic Wyandot Nation, claims to be a federally recognized Indian tribe and a successor-in-interest to treaties between the Historic Wyandot Nation and the United States. Wyandot Nation filed suit, alleging that the government had breached its trust and fiduciary obligations with respect to trusts that resulted from those treaties, including one related to amounts payable under an 1867 treaty and one related to the Huron Cemetery. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Tribal recognition is within the primary jurisdiction of the Department of Interior; a court cannot independently make a determination of the effects of the various treaties or resolve the various conflicting legal and factual contentions. Wyandot Nation petitioned the Department of Interior in 1996 for federal recognition pursuant to the List Act regulations. Interior preliminarily determined that “the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, which consists of the descendants of the citizen Wyandotts of Kansas terminated in 1855, [does not qualify for] Federal acknowledgment through the administrative process and can only become a Federally recognized Indian Tribe by an act of Congress.” The Nation did not pursue further administrative or judicial review. View "Wyandot Nation of Kansas v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Utah Trooper Swenson attempted to stop a car near the Uncompahgre Ute Reservation. The car entered the reservation. About 25 miles later, it stopped. Kurip, age 17, and Murray emerged and ran. Swenson caught Kurip and requested back-up. Vernal City Officer Norton and others responded. Norton claims that Murray shot at Norton, then shot himself. The officers found an illegally-purchased gun near Murray. No officer administered medical assistance to Murray while waiting for an ambulance. FBI agents took charge, and, with local officers, allegedly denied a tribal officer access. After Murray was declared dead (off-reservation), an officer allegedly photographed Murray nude and manipulated his remains. After an external examination, the medical examiner concluded that the bullet entered the back of Murray’s head, above and behind his left ear. Murray was right-handed. No soot was found on Murray’s hands. When the investigation into the gun concluded, the FBI destroyed it. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that there was no seizure, that the pursuit was reasonable, and that Murray had fired at Norton. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, plaintiffs sued the United States in the Claims Court, alleging violations of an 1868 Treaty and of the government’s trust obligations. The Claims Court concluded that the Treaty was limited to affirmative criminal acts committed on reservation lands and dismissed allegations regarding failure to take custody of and secure Murray’s body against desecration, spoliation of evidence, failure to ensure a proper autopsy, and failure to protect the Tribe’s reservation boundary and sovereign interest in the crime scene. The court found allegations concerning acts on the reservation barred by issue preclusion. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court improperly limited the scope of claims cognizable under the Treaty and erred in applying issue preclusion without considering a spoliation issue. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Under the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. is the trustee of Indian allotment land. A 1996 class action, filed on behalf of 300,000 Native Americans, alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars from leases for oil extractions and logging. The litigation’s 2011 settlement provided for “historical accounting claims,” tied to that mismanagement, and “land administration claims” for individuals that held, on September 30, 2009, an ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, claiming breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources. Members of the land administration class who failed to opt out were deemed to have waived any claims within the scope of the settlement. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion, The court provided notice, including of the opt-out right. Challenges to the opt-out and notice provisions were rejected. Indian allotees with interests in the North Dakota Fort Berthold Reservation, located on the Bakken Oil Shale (contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas), cannot lease their oil-and-gas interests unless the Secretary approves the lease as “in the best interest of the Indian owners,” 122 Stat. 620 (1998). In 2013, allotees sued, alleging that, in 2006-2009, a company obtained Fort Berthold allotment leases at below-market rates, then resold them for a profit of $900 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, holding that the allotees had forfeited their claims by failing to opt out of the earlier settlement. View "Two Shields v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450, authorizes self-determination (Title I) contracts. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reviews proposals for the Secretary of the Interior. A proposal not declined within 90 days is deemed approved. In October 2011, the Tribe wrote to the Bureau’s Office of Self Governance (OSG) requesting several million dollars for public safety, attaching a Resolution authorizing submission of a “Title I Compact Request.” OSG replied that it did not have authority to manage a Title I agreement, copying the Bureau’s Office of Justice Services (OJS), as the appropriate contact. OJS asked the Tribe to clarify whether it was seeking a Title I contract or funding under Title IV. The Tribe emailed OJS, regarding availability to meet "regarding the Title 1 request" and sent two follow-up emails, referencing its “Title 1 request.” On February 1, 2012 the Tribe wrote to OJS, stating that “the contract is deemed approved.” OJS responded that the intent of the October letter was unclear and did not meet self-determination contract proposal requirements. The Tribe again asserted deemed approval. A year later, OJS received a letter titled “Claim for performance of Title I justice services contract pursuant to Contract Disputes Act.” OJS again denied receiving a complete proposal. The Civilian Board of Contracting Appeals dismissed a claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the Tribe has not been awarded a contract, noting a parallel appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals. View "Yurok Tribe v. Dep't of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, the Shinnecock Indian Nation filed suit to vindicate its rights to land in the Town of Southampton, claiming that 1859 New York legislation allowed thousands of acres of the Nation’s land to be wrongfully conveyed to the town. The district court dismissed, holding that laches barred the claims. An appeal to the Second Circuit remains pending. In 2012, the Nation filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, seeking $1,105,000,000, alleging that the United States, “acting through the federal court system . . . denied any and all judicial means of effective redress for the unlawful taking of lands” in violation of trust obligations arising under the Non-Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. 177, and the “federal common law.” The Claims Court dismissed on alternative grounds: that the claims were not ripe because they were predicated upon the district court’s judgment in the prior suit, which was on appeal, or that, even if the claims were ripe, it had no jurisdiction because they did not fall within the Indian Tucker Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity. The court refused to allow amendment to allege a judicial takings claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the breach of trust claims are not ripe for review, vacated the jurisdiction ruling, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the breach of trust claims without prejudice. View "Shinnecock Indian Nation v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Tribe filed suit against the government seeking damages to cover the cost of providing safe drinking water on the northeastern Arizona Hopi Reservation. The reservation’s public water systems rely on groundwater drawn from subsurface layers of water-bearing rock. The Tribe alleges that the systems serving five communities on the eastern portion of the reservation contain unsafe levels of arsenic that exceed the federally allowed maximum. The Tribe alleges the United States funded and provided technical assistance for the construction of many of those wells. The Tribe owns and operates the public water systems serving four of the communities; the Bureau of Indian Affairs owns and operates the system serving the fifth. To invoke the court’s jurisdiction under the Indian Tucker Act, the Tribe must identify a statute or regulation imposing a specific obligation on the government to provide adequate drinking water that would give rise to a claim for money damages. The Court of Federal Claims concluded that the Tribe failed to do so. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The sources of law relied on by the Tribe do not establish a specific fiduciary obligation on the United States to ensure adequate water quality on the Reservation. View "Hopi Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The federal government holds, in trust for three Indian communities, certain Minnesota land acquired in the late 1800s, with federal funds appropriated for a statutorily identified group of Indians. That beneficiary group and the three present-day communities that grew on the land overlapped but diverged. Many beneficiaries were part of the communities, but many were not; the communities included many outside the beneficiary group. In 1980 Congress addressed resulting land use problems by putting the land into trust for the three communities that had long occupied them. Since then, proceeds earned from the land, including profits from gaming, have gone to the three communities. Descendants of the Indians designated in the original appropriations acts allege that they, rather than the communities, are entitled to benefits. In earlier litigation the Federal Circuit rejected a claim that the appropriations acts created a trust for the benefit of statutorily designated Indians and their descendants. On remand, the Court of Federal Claims rejected several new claims, but found the government liable on a claim for pre-1980 revenues from the lands acquired under the 1888-1890 Acts. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, finding that the descendants had no valid claim. View "Wolfchild v. United States" on Justia Law

by
McGuire leased farmland in Arizona from the Colorado River Indian Tribes with approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the BIA removed a bridge that he used to access portions of the leased property, McGuire filed a Fifth Amendment claim. McGuire does not claim that removal of the bridge was itself a taking, but rather that the BIA’s alleged refusal to authorize replacement of the bridge was a taking of his property rights. The Court of Federal Claims rejected the claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the regulatory takings claim never ripened because McGuire failed to pursue administrative remedies. Even if McGuire’s claim had ripened, he had no cognizable property interest in the bridge, which he neither possessed nor controlled because it was in a BIA right-of-way. No federal regulation gave him a property interest and he was not entitled to an easement by necessity. View "McGuire v. United States" on Justia Law

by
ASNA is an inter-tribal consortium of federally recognized tribes situated in Alaska. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, ASNA contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services, under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to operate a hospital. ISDA requires the government to pay costs reasonably incurred in managing the programs, 25 U.S.C. 450j-1. There have been three previous class actions concerning payments. One resulted in settlement; in two the courts denied class certification for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because claims had not first been submitted to the contracting officer. ANSA brought its claim, arguing that it was a putative class member in those suits even though it did not individually present claims to the contracting officer within the Contract Disputes Act six-year limitations period and that the limitations period was tolled while those cases were pending. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals dismissed. The Federal Circuit reversed. The class actions involved similar issues and parties, and put the government on notice of the general nature and legal theory underlying ASNA’s claims. ASNA monitored the legal landscape, took action as appropriate, and reasonably relied upon controlling authority, holding that it did not need to exhaust administrative remedies to be a class member. View "Arctic Slope Native Assoc., Ltd. v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

by
The 1868 Laramie Treaty, between tribes of Sioux Indians and the United States, included provisions that: “If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof ... proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished ... and also reimburse the injured person....”´and “If bad men among the Indians shall commit a wrong or depredation upon ...anyone ... subject to the authority of the United States ... the Indians ... will ... deliver up the wrong-doer ... the person injured shall be reimbursed ... from the annuities or other moneys due.” In 2008, two members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe were killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation by a non-Sioux, who was driving while intoxicated. The Claims Court dismissed a claim for reimbursement under the treaties. The Federal Circuit vacated. The “bad men” provisions are not limited to persons acting for or on behalf of the U.S. View "Richard v. United States" on Justia Law