Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The State of Alaska, NARF, Northern Justice Project and ACLU Reach Settlement In Yup'ik Language and Voter Assistance Case

CONTACT: Natalie Landreth (907) 276-0680 or (907) 360-3423

Anchorage, Alaska – Alaska state officials along with Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Justice Project, four Alaska Native elders and four tribal governments today jointly announced a settlement of Nick, et al. v. Bethel, et al. According to the settlement, the state of Alaska will make enhancements to language assistance for Yup’ik-speaking voters available at elections in the Bethel area.

The resolution of the case, originally filed in June 2007 on behalf of Alaska Native elders Anna Nick, Billy McCann, Arthur Nelson and David O. David and the tribal governments of Kasigluk, Kwigillingok, Tuluksak and Tuntutuliak was hailed by all parties involved.

"This settlement recognizes improvements to language-assistance protocols implemented by the state during the 2008 and 2009 elections, while providing for enhancements to ensure that limited-English-proficient voters receive effective assistance," said Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "We support fair voting practices and effective access to the voting booth for all Alaskans, and we will vigorously implement the terms of this settlement."

“We are extremely pleased the state of Alaska will provide Yup'ik-speaking voters in the Bethel area with the tools they need to fully participate in the political process," said Natalie Landreth of Native American Rights Fund (NARF). “That is what this case was all about – equal access to the polls.”

"Our right to vote is one of the most important that we as Americans possess," said Alaska Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell, who oversees the Division of Elections. "Here in Alaska, we want all our citizens to exercise that right, regardless of where they live or the language they speak. We are pleased to have come together to ensure that this case is a win-win for Yup'ik-speaking voters and the State of Alaska."

“Every American deserves an equal voice in the political process,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The Constitution protects all Alaskans' right to vote regardless of what language they speak."

Key protocols for the Division of Election include:

-Training bilingual poll workers to provide language and voter assistance to voters;

-Coordinating language assistance through a bilingual staff person with a toll-free number;

-Relying on Yup'ik language experts to translate election materials, including information on ballot measures, candidates, absentee and special-needs voting and voter registration,

-Preparation of a Yup'ik-English glossary of election terms and phrases to guide bilingual poll workers providing language assistance;

-Providing sample ballots in Yup'ik;

-Pre-election publicity in Yup’ik through radio ads, television programs, public service announcements and announcements over VHF radios in villages that do not receive local radio stations;

-Undertaking outreach to the villages in the census area.

“I have said all along that all we wanted was to be able to understand what we are voting for. Now that will happen, and I am very, very happy,” said Billy McCann, a plaintiff in the case. Being a Plaintiff is not easy but when you come together to fix a problem like this, it is worth it.”

Attorneys for the state of Alaska are Assistant Attorneys General Gilman Dana S. Burke, Sarah J. Felix, Margaret A. Paton-Walsh and Michael Barnhill.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs are Natalie Landreth of NARF; Dr. James T. Tucker; ACLU of Alaska; Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; and James J. Davis, Jr.

back row: Joe Alexie (Tuluksak Tribal Council), Jason Brandeis (Alaska ACLU), Peter Andrew (Tuluksak Tribal Council), Michael Martin (Kasigluk Traditional Council), Jim Tucker (attorney), Nick David (Tuntutuliak Tribal Council)

front row: Jim Davis (attorney), Leo Beaver (Kasigluk Traditional Council), Robert Enoch (Tuntutuliak Tribal Council), Natalie Landreth (NARF Attorney) and Elsie Nichols (Kasigluk Traditional Council)

To view the Settlement Agreement click here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Supreme Court Update Available

The Tribal Supreme Court Project is part of the Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative and is staffed by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). The Project was formed in 2001 in response to a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases that negatively affected tribal sovereignty. The purpose of the Project is to promote greater coordination and to improve strategy on litigation that may affect the rights of all Indian tribes. We encourage Indian tribes and their attorneys to contact the Project in our effort to coordinate resources, develop strategy and prepare briefs, especially at the time of the petition for a writ of certiorari, prior to the Supreme Court accepting a case for review. You can find copies of briefs and opinions on the major cases we track on the NARF website (

To date, no Indian law cases have been granted review by the Court. Six petitions are currently pending, and a total of ten petitions have been denied. As anticipated, on January 15, 2010, the United States filed a petition seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Tohono O’odham Nation v. United States. In Tohono O’odham, the Federal Circuit found that 28 U.S.C. § 1500 does not preclude jurisdiction in the Court of Federal Claims when a Indian tribe has also filed an action in Federal District Court seeking different relief (e.g. money damages versus historical accounting). According to the United States, at least 31 pairs of cases have been filed by Indian tribes based on identical claims for breach of fiduciary duties in both the Court of Federal Claims and the Federal District Court seeking separate relief.

In an unexpected development, on January 13, 2010, the Court requested a response from the United States in Wolfchild (and Zephier) v. United States, a case which involves two groups of individuals who claim to be the descendants of the “loyal” Mdewakanton Sioux. The United States had waived its right of response—usually an indicator to the Court that the case is not worthy of review. Evidently, something in the case has caught the interest of the Court. The Wolfchild petitioners are seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which reversed the trial court’s finding of breach of trust by the United States. The Federal Circuit held that (1) the 1888, 1889 and 1890 Appropriation Acts enacted for the benefit of the loyal Mdewakanton Sioux and their lineal descendants which included lands, improvements to lands and monies as the corpus did not create a trust; and (2) even if the referenced Appropriations Acts did create a trust, the 1980 Act terminated that trust by transferring beneficial ownership to the three Mdewakanton Indian communities (Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community and Prairie Island Indian Community). This case could become a vehicle for the Court to further erode the nature of the United States’ trust responsibility, and to limit the scope of the fiduciary duties the United States owes to the Indian people.

Click here to read full update.