Friday, December 19, 2014

GuideStar gives NARF gold rating for non-profit accountability

GuideStar logo
Thinking about giving to NARF this holiday season?  GuideStar has given NARF its gold rating for non-profit accountability.  
GuideStar is an independent agency that collects, organizes, and presents data on non-profits to enable the public to make well-informed decisions about their charitable giving.

Interested in learning more?  See NARF’s GuideStar rating

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Department of the Interior publishes final regulation on trust land acquisitions for Alaska Natives

Today the Department of the Interior published a final regulation removing the prohibition against the Secretary of the Interior acquiring lands in trust status on behalf of Alaska Native Tribes and Alaska Native individuals. 

The new rule reopens a door which had been closed two decades ago when a department lawyer incorrectly concluded that a 1971 law had repealed the Secretary’s authority to protect Alaska Native tribal and individual lands.  Today’s action comes in direct response to litigation brought by the Native American Rights Fund to overturn that illegal limitation on the ability of the Secretary to protect Alaska Native lands.

NARF challenged the prohibition in a 2006 lawsuit,
Akiachak Native Community, et al. v. Salazar, brought against the Secretary on behalf of four Tribes and one Native individual—the Akiachak Native Community, Chalkyitsik Village, the Chilkoot Indian Association, the Tuluksak Native Community, and Alice Kavairlook.  Working with the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, NARF challenged a regulation found at 25 C.F.R. § 151.1 which generally barred the Secretary from acquiring lands in trust status (other than for the Metlakatla Indian Community).  NARF argued that this differential treatment of Alaska Native Tribes violated a statutory rule set forth in the Indian Reorganization Act (25 U.S.C. § 476(g)) nullifying federal regulations that discriminate among Native American Tribes.  The State of Alaska intervened in the longstanding case to argue that this differential treatment was required by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, but the District Court for the District of Columbia rejected that position and agreed with NARF and the Tribes on all counts.  It is that court decision which laid the groundwork for today’s final rule.

Although the new Interior Department rules remove a key barrier to the Secretary’s acquisition of trust lands in Alaska, one additional barrier still remains.  The federal court in Washington, D.C. has directed that during the pendency of the State of Alaska’s appeal, the Secretary may now process trust land applications from Alaska but she may not actually acquire title to such lands until the litigation is concluded.  Briefs in the case are scheduled to be filed early next year.  

Lead attorney Heather Kendall Miller called today’s announcement “an extraordinary step forward in the longstanding battle of Alaska Tribes to secure greater tribal self-determination, to protect their lands and way of life in perpetuity, and to enjoy the same basic privileges and immunities enjoyed by all other Native American Tribes.”  Ms. Kendall Miller added that “only by enjoying all of the governing tools available to other Native American Tribes will Alaska Tribes finally have the means to preserve their way of life and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their communities.” 

Monday, December 15, 2014

NARF listed in Best Law Firms in Colorado

NARF logo
The Native American Rights Fund has received a first tier ranking in Best Law Firms in Colorado, as published in the November 2014 edition of U.S. News & World Report.  To be eligible for a ranking, a law firm must have at least one lawyer listed in The Best Lawyers in America list.  Earlier this year NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk and Staff Attorney Melody McCoy were recognized in the 21st Edition of Best Lawyers in America in the practice area of Native American Law.  The Best Lawyers publications annually highlight attorneys who are highly respected in their fields.  Selection is made though surveys in which attorneys confidentially evaluate their peers, and attorneys are not permitted to pay any fee to participate in or be included on the annual lists. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Native American Rights Fund files amicus curiae brief on behalf of National Congress of American Indians in support of John Thorpe’s En Banc Petition

screenshot of first page of brief

As described in a previous post on the NARF blog, the Thorpe family and the Sac and Fox Nation filed suit to repatriate Jim Thorpe’s remains so that he could be buried in Oklahoma on tribal land, as was his wish.  The Thorpe family and Tribe obtained a ruling in federal district court that NAGPRA applies to the Borough of Jim Thorpe in Pennsylvania, where Thorpe’s remains are in a mausoleum. 

On October 23, 2014, a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, that NAGPRA as written applies to the Borough, but that applying in this case would produce an absurd result demonstrably at odds with the intentions of Congress.  The panel was not exactly clear what it saw as “absurd” but also ruled that NAGPRA was only meant to apply to original burial locations or final resting places. 

This week, the Thorpes and Sac and Fox Nation filed a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc.  Former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and NCAI also filed a brief in support of a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc.  The parties argued that the Third Circuit panel opinion wrongly interpreted NAGPRA and Congress’ intent, left out major procedural provisions of the statute, and created a judicial exception to its application.   

Read the briefs at the Turtle Talk blog.  Or,  read “Bringing Jim Thorpe Home,” an article on this issue co-written by NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk and Suzan Shown Harjo.