Friday, December 30, 2011

Buffy Saint Marie Has Kind Words for NARF

In a recent interview, Buffy Sainte-Marie had some kind words for NARF and the importance of our work asserting and defending the rights of tribes. Thanks, Buffy! To read the interview, click HERE.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Make Your Year-End Gift Today to Support the Native American Rights Fund

For the last 40 years, NARF has provided legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide who may have otherwise gone without adequate representation. Yet as the need for our services increases, our financial resources are being seriously drained. It's not too late to support our work. Your donation will be 100% tax-deductible and will create a lasting impact throughout Indian Country. As always, thank you for your continued support and best wishes for a New Year filled with peace, happiness and hope!

Click HERE for more information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Staff in NARF's Boulder Office Celebrate the Holidays by Giving to Others

Staff in NARF's Boulder office recently raised several hundred dollars to purchase medicine, toiletries, and food for the Boulder Homeless Shelter. Though times are lean for everyone, NARF is dedicated to supporting our community and other non-profits, especially during the holidays and these long winter months. Cheers to our supporters and our community partners!

NARF wins case that upholds Alaska tribal government sovereignty

On Friday, December 9, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with NARF attorney Heather Kendall-Miller’s legal arguments and upheld Alaska tribal government sovereignty against a failed challenge that Alaska Tribes do not possess sovereign immunity from suit.  In the case, McCrary v. Ivanof Bay Village, Appellant McCrary challenged the federal recognition of Ivanof Bay Village and the corollary right of the tribe to claim sovereign immunity from suit in the context of a contractual dispute.  Appellant was represented by Don Mitchell, an Alaska attorney who has spent much of his career arguing that Congress has not approved Interior’s authority to acknowledge preexisting tribal status.  However, tribal government legal status has now been clearly upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court in two successive decisions and McCrary has no other recourse in the state court system

For a copy of the opinion, click here.

For a radio story discussing the Alaska Supreme Court’s opinion, click here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tribal Constitution Handbook Now Available

Tribal Constitution Handbook: A Guide to Writing and Revising Tribal Constitutions]
A tribe's fundamental act of self-governance is the writing or revising of its tribal constitution. A well-crafted constitution is the cornerstone of sound tribal governance. This Handbook is intended to help a tribe protect and foster its tribal sovereignty and self-governance, and to protect tribal members in the exercise of that self-governance.

This book, written by former NARF attorney Mark Tilden is now available for purchase on the NARF website.  Click HERE for more information.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thank You 2011 NARF Summer Law Clerks

Each summer NARF hosts the summer clerkship program, a ten to twelve week program for second year law students. Law clerk projects consist mainly of legal research and writing. The projects are extremely challenging because NARF practices before federal, state, and tribal forums, and because most of its cases - whether at the administrative, trial, or appellate level - are complex and involve novel legal issues.

This past year the law clerk program was supported by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians through the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund, University of Denver-Sturm College of Law and the Ungar Foundation/Smith, Shelton, and Ragona LLC.

Meet the clerks who worked with us last summer: Jacqueline Jampolsky (Cherokee), Lauren Frinkman (Cochiti Pueblo), Claire Newman, Ryan Ward (Cowlitz Tribe) and Elizabeth Hutchinson.

Jacqueline Jampolsky (Cherokee)
JJ is working towards (2013) a joint JD/PhD degree at CU Law (American Indian Law Certificate and Environmental Law and Policy). She obtained her BS, majoring in Conservation and Resource Studies and minoring in Global Poverty and Practice, from the University of California-Berkeley.

Lauren Frinkman (Cochiti Pueblo)
Lauren is a third year student at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law where she is President of their NALSA chapter and a Board Member of the National Lawyers Guild. She obtained her B.A., majoring in Religion and minoring in German, from Colorado College. Lauren has been a Law Clerk with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and a Public Interest Fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

Claire Newman
Claire is a third year student at the University of Washington School of Law where she is President of their NALSA group, an Environmental Law Program Student Representative and the Pro Bono Project Director. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Carleton College. Claire has been a legal fellow for the Washington Environmental Council and in the Office of Senator Maria Cantwell. From 2007-2009 she was Assistant Director for the Lakota People’s Law Project. Claire has also been a middle school teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School on Pine Ridge.

DC Office
Ryan Ward (Cowlitz Tribe)
Ryan is a third year student at the University of Washington School of Law where he is Vice-President of NALSA chapter and a member of the Trustees for Alaska Pro Bono Project. He received his B.A. in History (Emphasis in Federal Indian Policy) from Willamette University. He has been a Judicial Intern for the Honorable W. Michael Gillette of the Supreme Court of Oregon and a high school tutor for students at the Chemawa Indian School.

Anchorage Office
Elizabeth Hutchinson
Elizabeth is a second year student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law where she is a Representative of the Natural Resources and Environmental Law Society. She received her B.A. from the University of California at Davis where she majored in International Relations and minored in Comparative Literature. Elizabeth participated in 2011 Alternative Spring Break – DNA Legal Services. She worked in the Alaska office as part of Seattle University’s Study Law in Alaska Program.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Obama Signs Executive Order on American Indian and Alaska Native education

At last Friday’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama announced he had signed an executive order establishing a White House initiative on American Indian and Alaska native education. NARF Staff Attorney Amy Bowers works on Native education efforts and is excited about the Administration’s support for tribal colleges and universities, and tribal education agencies expressed in the Executive Order. This executive order is a first step in the direction achieving tribal sovereignty in Native education, and NARF commends President Obama for his commitment to the issue.
For more information about this, click HERE.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Leverage Your Donation!

Celebrate Colorado Gives Day
with NARF and Tocabe

Join the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) at Tocabe, an American Indian Eatery, Tuesday, December 6th for great food, fun and prizes. On Colorado Gives Day, all donations to NARF will be matched through the Community First Foundation. For one day only, you can increase the impact of your gift!

The fun will run all day, 11 AM – 9 PM. Get together, enjoy specials from the delicious Tocabe menu, connect with old friends and meet new—all while supporting justice for Native Americans.
If you cannot join us at Tocabe, you can still leverage your donation! Just go to the Colorado Gives Day website on December 6th. 100% of your donation goes directly to NARF when you give through So, please give online any time on December 6, 2011. The value of your donation will be increased by the FirstBank Incentive Fund.

For more information, call the Native American Rights Fund at (303)447-8760, or visit the Colorado Gives web site at

The Native American Rights Fund has been headquartered in Colorado for 40 years. NARF helps tribes and Native people nation wide in areas of tribal sovereignty, treaty enforcement, education and protection of natural resources, cultural practices and sacred sites.
Tocabe, the only American Indian Eatery on the Front Range, is operated by Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra. They are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Tocabe is located at 3536 W 44th Ave., Denver CO, 80211 - (720)-524-8282.

The Community First Foundation started Colorado Gives Day in 2010. The Foundation helps donors support charitable causes through planned giving and Donor Advised Funds, and offer grants, fund management and education to nonprofits. They have been serving the community since 1975.

NARF Joins With Environmental Leaders to Call on Administration to Fix Pacific Salmon Crisis

NARF has joined with leaders of six of the nation's leading environmental and conservation groups to call on Commerce Secretary John Bryson and Council for Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley for their assistance in solving the decades-long controversy surrounding restoration of wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia/Snake River Basin. In this letter, NARF and American Rivers, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club have asked the Secretary and the Chairwoman to meet with them to discuss how to bring stake-holders together to find a solution that protects these remarkable fish and the Pacific Northwest jobs, economy, and cultural and religious values they support.

"It's time to try something new," said Trip Van Noppen, Earthjustice President. "We've been litigating and winning in the federal courts for more than a decade. The Court's most recent decision provides a unique opportunity to develop a process and a solution that can go beyond the courthouse and bring all stakeholders together to find a long-lasting solution. The time is now and we are urging this administration to see that reality and act on it. We can continue to argue this in court, and I believe we will continue to win those arguments, but if we step back and take a different approach - an approach tried in numerous other situations around this country - and bring the affected parties together, we could chart a new course that works for the whole region. Why this administration has so far been afraid to take the step of sitting down and talking with people is beyond me. We hope a meeting with Secretary Bryson and Chairwoman Sutley will get to the bottom of this problem and let us all get going on a solution. "

This letter comes on the heels of a request from more than 1200 businesses across the country asking President Obama for the same stakeholder process and a bi-partisan letter from the House of Representatives, signed by more than 50 members of Congress, asking for the same.

To read the letter, click HERE.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NARF Recognizes Kunani Nihipali

At last month’s board meeting we also recognized Kunani Nihipali, our former Board of Directors Vice-Chairman and longtime supporter for his years of service to NARF and Native Hawaiian issues.

Mr. Nihipali is a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools and a longtime advocate for Native Hawaiians. He is the Vice President and Director of the Native Hawaiian Advisory Council (dba Ke Kia’i), which works to protect traditional and customary practices and build economic independence. He is also the Director of the Pacific Alliance Advisors (PA‘A) and a core group member of Aloha First, a Native Hawaiian initiative for peace and survival. In addition, Mr. Nihipali is also a director with the Pu’a Foundation.

Mr. Nihipali has also served as the Project Director and an instructor of E Hana Like (working together) programs for Kanaka children and adults through grants from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Mr. Nihipali rounds out his expertise with his awareness of farming, fishing, language, video technician work, grant writing, the arts (multi-media contemporary, traditional visual, and performing), restoration of cultural sites and rebuilding of contemporary burial and sacred sites for na iwi kupuna through the Ola Na Iwi Project.

Finally, Mr. Nihipali served as the Po’o (Head) of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai’i Nei (Hui Malama), a group caring for the ancestors of ka pae ‘aina o Hawai’i through repatriation and reinterment. Hui Malama has conducted reburial ceremonies throughout the Hawaiian island archipelago, and based on cultural training and practice, legal standing, and national and international efforts, the group has repatriated over 5,700 iwi kupuna and moepu from thirty-one institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Scotland.

We will greatly miss Mr. Kihipali and his wife, Ipo. Thank you both for your support and dedication.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NARF Recognizes the Service of Delia M. Carlyle

At last month’s board meeting NARF recognized Delia M. Carlyle, our former Board Chairwoman and longtime supporter for her years of service to NARF and Native American issues.

Ms. Carlyle is currently a member of the Ak-Chin Indian Community Council. During her years on the Council, she has served in the capacity of Chairwoman, Vice-Chairwoman, and Secretary. Ms. Carlyle also served as the Chairwoman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and she is the first recipient of the Phyllis Bigpond Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ms. Carlyle joined the staff at the Ak-Chin Community Center, currently known as the Service Center, in 1978 and was appointed its Director in 1994. Her professional and political service to the Community Center and the Community Council enable her to assist with creating and implementing programs in areas such as housing, health, transportation, social services, education and community development, all of which directly benefit her community.

Ms. Carlyle graduated from Maricopa High School in 1974, and attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas and Central Arizona College. As a community and civic leader, Ms. Carlyle, has been recognized many times for her service and contributions. Despite her many accomplishments, Ms. Carlyle firmly believes her greatest achievements are her children and grandchildren.

Thank you, Ms. Carlyle, for your dedicated service to NARF.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

John Echohawk to Speak at CU

John Echohawk, Executive Director, Native American Rights Fund, will be coming to speak at Colorado Law, Wolf Law Building on the Boulder campus on Friday at 6 pm in the Wittemyer Court Room.

Mr. Echohawk, Pawnee, was the first graduate of the University of New Mexico's special program to train Indian lawyers, and was a founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association while in law school. John has been with NARF since its inception, having served continuously as Executive Director since 1977. He has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal and has received numerous service awards and other recognition for his leadership in the Indian law field. John will be sharing his personal perspective on his experience in the field of native rights activism, for the purpose of inspiring aspiring professionals for the future.

What John means to the community, and what he has achieved in the field of Indian Law is hardly encompassed in his bio. This will be a special event, and welcome you, your friends, family, co-workers and everybody else to come!

For more information click HERE.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Staff Attorney Kim Gottschalk moderating a workshop on the UNDRIP

If you're at NCAI this week and interested in learning more about the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), NARF Staff Attorney Kim Gottschalk will be moderating the workshop, Moving UNDRIP to Action. The workshop will be an opportunity for tribal leaders, advocates, and representatives to learn about how to strategically use the UNDRIP at the local, regional, and national level to affect change.

Click this link for more information.

NARF, TEDNA, and CTUIR present briefing on the Native Class Act

Interested in learning more about Indian education efforts in Congress? NARF Staff Attorney Amy Bowers will present a briefing on the Native Class Act at NCAI this Wednesday, November 2 in Portland, OR. Amy will discuss how the Act increases tribal sovereignty and funding available to tribal governments for education purposes. Follow this link for more information.

Boulder Conversations with EXTRAORDINARY People

Native American Rights Fund's Executive Director John Echohawk will speak at the Boulder History Museum’s Conversations with Extraordinary People event. Please follow this link for ticket information.

John Echohawk has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal and has received numerous service awards and other recognition for his leadership in the Indian law field.

Find more information HERE.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NARF Receives 3 Star Rating from Charity Navigator

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has been upgraded to a three-star (of a possible four) rating by Charity Navigator, the nation’s leading charity watchdog group. Charity Navigator’s evaluations of a charity’s Financial Health --- which examine how a charity manages its finances day to day and how financially well-positioned it is in order to sustain its programs over time --- have helped millions of donors make better giving decisions impacting billions of dollars of donations each year.

“We are very pleased to be recognized by Charity Navigator in this way,” said Morgan O’Brien, NARF Director of Development. “We have worked hard to improve in all areas of efficiency and transparency.”

NARF is the largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting tribal sovereignty and enforcing treaty rights. NARF also helps protect the rights of Native Americans to practice their traditional religions, speak their own languages and enjoy their cultures.

Charity Navigator, America's premiere independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the Financial Health and Accountability and Transparency of America's largest charities.

“In these difficult economic times, we’re thrilled to give donors more information to help them determine which charities they support are efficient and accountable,” said Ken Berger, President & CEO of Charity Navigator. “So, for the first time since launching our charity rating service nearly 10 years ago, we’ve made a major enhancement to our rating system. We know that donors will welcome this change as it gives them more knowledge to do more good.”

NARF Sponsors Indian Water Rights Symposium

On August 23-25, 2011, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Western States Water Council (WSWC) held the twelfth Symposium on the Settlement of Indian Reserved Water Rights Claims. Since 1991, the NARF and WSWC have sponsored a biennial Symposium to discuss the settlement of Indian reserved water rights claims. This year’s symposium was held in Billings, Montana with over 225 people in attendance.

Globally, an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water. In the United States, only 0.6% of the population lacks Access to drinking water and wastewater disposal. But disproportionately, 13% of American Indians lack that access—some 20 times the national average.

NARF has been engaged in litigating and negotiating water rights for tribes for decades, and water law comprises a significant portion of our case load. In Winters v. United States, the right to water was impliedly reserved for the resident tribes with the creation of their reservations. The quantity of Indian water rights is measured by the amount of water needed to fulfill the present and future needs of the reservation – cultural, domestic, municipal, commercial, industrial and agricultural.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester recognizes the value of negotiated water settlements, and greeted the Symposium participants with this message:

“We’re already seeing the benefits of water settlements in Montana—like jobs and stronger infrastructure. But our work is not done. In addition to the Crow Water Settlement, which passed last year, I continue fighting to get the resources necessary to build authorized projects at Rocky Boy and Fort Peck. We’re also looking for opportunities to advance settlements on the Fort Belknap and Blackfeet reservations.”

This year’s session topics included: Negotiation of Indian Water Rights Claims - the Basics; Settlement Implementation - the Administration’s Settlement Policy; and Settlement Legislation - Getting Bills through Congress. The primary Symposium format consists of panel discussions with presenters who have been involved in negotiated settlements representing tribal, state, local, and federal governments, interest groups, congressional staff, and others. The Symposium schedule provided opportunities for informal interchange and cultural enlightenment. A main feature of the Symposium is always a tour of a local Indian community that highlights a recent settlement’s benefits. This year’s field trip toured the Crow Reservation and concluded with an evening social and cultural event hosted by the Crow Tribe.

For additional information about the Symposium program and to download materials, go to

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NCAIED Honors NARF Attorney Amy Bowers

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) will honor 40 American Indian professionals under the age of 40 at its 36th Annual Indian Progress in Business Awards Event (INPRO) on September 8 in Hollywood, Florida. Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Attorney Amy Bowers is one of the honorees. Read More

CCIA Taps NARF Attorney Steve Moore

The Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs (CCIA) announced its newest members at its quarterly meeting on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in Towaoc, Colorado. Steve Moore, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, and Dr. Rocco Fuschetto, School Superintendent, Ignacio School District, will hold one-year appointments to the commission, according to a press release. Dr. Fuschetto is a first-time appointee; Moore has served as a member of the Commission since 1999. Read More

NARF Attorney Natalie Landreth to Argue in Ninth Circuit

Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Attorney Natalie Landreth will argue an historic hunting and fishing rights case, Eyak v. Locke, Secretary of Commerce, before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on September 21st. The legal precedents for this case flow directly from United States v. Washington, the landmark case won by NARF and other advocates in 1973 on behalf of salmon fishing tribes in the State of Washington. Professor Charles Wilkinson, co-author of the leading textbook on federal Indian law, recently described United States v. Washington as “…along with Brown v. Board of Education, the two most important civil rights cases of the 20th century. Read More

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

NARF Testifies for Native Education

NARF staff attorney Amy Bowers testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last month in support of the Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools Act. The Act would dramatically increase in tribal sovereignty in Indian education and marks a policy shift in education law toward recognition of the rights of tribes to educate their tribal members.

NARF appeared on behalf of its client, the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly (TEDNA). TEDNA is a consortium of 156 tribes dedicated to improving the academic performance of Native students by assuring adequate resources and local community and tribal input into curriculum and decision making.

The federal government has a trust responsibility to provide education for Native American students. For too long this has not been met and these students are struggling. American Indian and Alaska Native students are the lowest performing group on standardized tests. The national high school dropout rate of Native American students is 50% and even higher in many states.

Tribal education departments can help reverse these troubling trends by ensuring education is culturally appropriate. Specific examples include:

  • The Pueblo of Jemez Alatowa High Charter School has a graduation rate of 89.4%.

  • The Hoopa Valley Tribe learning center increased at risk students’ grades by two letters.

  • The Cherokee Nation has contributed over $19 million in 8 years to public schools and has worked with Apple Computers to make the Cherokee language available on iPhones, iPods, and apple laptops.

Amy Bower’s testimony before Committee Chairman Senator Daniel Akaka and committee focused on building on those success stories."The enormous opportunity to invest in TEDs and tribes for the sake of Native students must be seized. S.1262 does this. It aligns Federal law with what is already happening, and with what needs to happen." View all of Amy’s testimony.

To support NARF’s continuing work on behalf Native students, and all of NARF’s work in Indian Country, click here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

National Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places is being observed at the Native American Rights Fund on Friday, June 17, 2011

The public is welcome to a sunrise ceremony that will be held on NARF's front lawn beginning at 7:00 a.m. The program is expected to last for one hour with a prayer ceremony. Community members have been invited to speak, as well as other NARF staff. Speakers will be followed by a moment of silence to show concern for the sacred places that are being damaged and destroyed today.

The Native American Rights Fund is headquartered at 1506 Broadway in Boulder, Colorado. NARF extends an open invitation to its program and requests that participants bring a chair or a blanket to the front lawn and to bring food and/or beverages to share at the completion of the program.

As part of its mission, the Native American Rights Fund advocates for sacred site protection, religious freedom efforts and cultural rights. NARF attorneys and staff participate in local and national gatherings and discussions about how to protect lands that are sacred and precious to Native Americans.

The Native American Rights Fund utilizes its resources to protect First Amendment rights of Native American religious leaders, prisoners and members of the Native American Church, and to assert tribal rights to cultural property and human remains, in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Please join us! If you have any questions please contact Rose Cuny at 303-447-8760.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New 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.

At present, two important Indian trust cases are pending on the merits before the Court. First, the Tribal Supreme Court Project is finalizing the preparation of amicus briefs in support of the Tribe in United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation which will be argued before the Court on April 20, 2011. In this case, the United States is challenging the Federal Circuit’s ruling that the federal government “cannot deny an Indian tribe’s request to discover communications between the United States and its attorneys based on the attorney-client privilege when those communications concern the management of an Indian trust.” Second, the Project continues to wait for the Court to issue its decision in United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation which was argued on November 1, 2010. The delay in issuing an opinion may indicate a lack of consensus on the Court regarding the broad rule requested by the United States which would preclude any Indian tribe from bringing money damages claims in the Court of Federal Claims if they have filed a “related” tribal trust mismanagement case in another court even though it seeks different (e.g. equitable and injunctive) relief.

As reported last month, the Court has called for the views of the Solicitor General in three other Indian law cases: Osage Nation v. Irby (reservation disestablishment); Brown (formerly Schwarzenegger) v. Rincon Band (IGRA “revenue” sharing); and Miccosukee Tribe v. Kraus-Anderson (enforcement of tribal court judgments). More than likely, the Solicitor General will not file his briefs until after the Court’s April 2011 oral argument session, but the petitions will likely be considered in conference before the Court adjourns for its summer recess at the end of June 2011.

You can find copies of briefs and opinions on the major cases we track on the Project’s website.

Monday, March 7, 2011

State high court empowers tribes' child custody decisions

Tanana v. State, No. 3AN-04-12194 CI, No. 6542

Contact: Heather Kendall Miller, Senior Staff Attorney and Counsel for Tanana.

Last Friday the Alaska Supreme Court issued a broad affirmation of inherent tribal authority. In State of Alaska v. Tanana the Court ruled that tribal courts have authority to initiate and adjudicate children’s cases without going through state courts.

The case was brought in 2004 on behalf of the Villages of Tanana, Nulato, Akiak, Kalskag, Lower Kalskag and Kenaitze along with Theresa and Dan Schwietert. The case was brought after Governor Murkowsi’s administration, on the advice of former Attorney General Greg Renkes, abruptly stopped recognizing tribal court decrees in cases that did not originate in state court. Renkes argued that only state courts could initiate children’s cases and if they chose, transfer those cases to tribal courts. He also instructed state employees to stop recognizing or enforcing tribal court decrees. The case was brought to overturn Renkes’ opinion and to force the State, its agencies and officials to formally recognize valid tribal court decrees without regard to any state court involvement.

State services frequently do not reach village Alaska. Tribal courts must therefore handle most cases involving the welfare of village children. State recognition of those tribal court proceedings is therefore critical to assure that proceedings which occur in tribal court are then respected by other state agencies. Otherwise, adoptive parents may not be able to participate in state funded assistance programs, secure substitute birth certificates necessary to travel out of state, to enroll children in school, or to secure medical care.

The Schwieterts faced just such a dilemma. After adopting a special needs child in Tanana tribal court, they had difficulty accessing health care. They were also frustrated in their plans to travel out of state when they were told that they could not acquire a substitute birth certificate for their adoptive child since the child had been adopted in a tribal rather than state court proceeding.

NARF attorney Heather Kendall Miller called on Governor Parnell and Attorney General Burns to rescind the Renkes Opinion and instead take this opportunity to work with tribes and tribal courts to ensure the protection of all children, no matter which court their case is in. She sounded on a positive note: “now that the Court has reaffirmed tribal authority in this area I look forward to working with Attorney General Burns to better coordinate tribal and state services in village Alaska.”

For more information see:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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 (

At present, the Supreme Court remains extremely (and unusually) active in relation to its Indian law case docket. In its order of February 22, 2011, the Court invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in Osage Nation v. Irby. This practice by the Court is known as a “CVSG” (Call for the Views of the Solicitor General) and generally occurs when the views of the federal government are relevant to a case in which the United States is not a party. It is not unusual for the Court to CVSG in an Indian law case on occasion—once every two or three years—particularly when the petitioner is a state or local government challenging an Indian tribe. Thus, it was not unusual for the Court to CVSG in the Hogan v. Kaltag Tribal Council case late last term when the State of Alaska challenged the authority of the Tribal Court over a tribal member-child placement proceeding (cert denied October 4, 2011).

However, the Court has now Called for the Views of the Solicitor General in a total of four Indian law cases this term: Osage Nation v. Irby (reservation disestablishment); Brown (formerly Schwarzenegger) v. Rincon Band (IGRA “revenue” sharing); Miccosukee Tribe v. Kraus-Anderson (enforcement of tribal court judgments); and Thunderhorse v. Pierce (Native American religious practices). In three of the four cases, Indian tribes and Indian interests have been on the top-side—the petitioners seeking review by the Court. The court denied review in Thunderhorse, but there is a good chance it may grant review in Osage Nation or Miccosukee Tribe, largely dependent on the views of the Solicitor General. In another remarkable development, the Court has requested a response from the State of Oklahoma in the Native Wholesale Supply case (state regulation of intertribal commerce)—the first time in the history of the Project that the Court has required a state government to respond to a petition filed by Indians. Although it would be premature to draw any conclusions regarding these “requests” by the Court, these developments may be the result of the addition of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan on the Court. Perhaps one or both Justices are seeking a better understanding of the issues being raised and the law being applied by the lower federal and state courts in our Indian law cases.

You can find copies of briefs and opinions on the major cases we track on the Project’s website
( to read the full Update Memo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Anchorage, Alaska -- On January 22, the Alaska Office of the Native American Rights Fund was named one of the 40 Heroes of Constitutional Rights by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Alaska office of the ACLU honored the 40 people and organizations that it considered to be heroes of constitutional rights. NARF was honored for its long history of commitment to upholding the rights of Alaska Native people as described in the following excerpt from the event program:

“The Alaska Office is responsible for many of the major subsistence decisions in Alaska in the past 25 years, such as the milestone Katie John case. . . The Alaska Office has also prioritized the protection of tribal sovereignty and has successfully litigated numerous cases affirming the governmental status of Alaska Tribes as possessing inherent authority over their members.”
The ACLU also noted that it has partnered with the NARF Alaska Office in two critical cases upholding the rights of indigenous people to use their Native languages:

“The first case successfully challenged the ‘English Only’ law that required individuals to speak only English when engaged in government business, such as at the DMV or in court. In the second case, NARF and the ACLU of Alaska sued the State of Alaska for violation of the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide language assistance to thousands of Alaska’s Yup’ik-speaking voters. Following a preliminary injunction, a comprehensive agreement was reached which includes translation and interpretation assistance for all Yup’ik speaking voters throughout the registration and voting process.”

NARF is honored to be named one of the ACLU’s 40 Heroes. For more information on the Alaska Office or its recent court victories please go to

Monday, January 10, 2011

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.

There has been a stunning development in the Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York case. Today, the Supreme Court issued an order vacating the opinion and remanded Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The remand order is a victory for the Oneida Indian Nation, the Tribal Supreme Court Project, and for all of Indian country. From the time when the Court granted review, this case was viewed as a prime opportunity for the Court to revisit its precedent and to carve out a significant exception to the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. At least for now, that result has been averted.

The remand order was based on the November 30, 2010 letter from the Oneida Indian Nation informing the Court that the Nation had passed a tribal “Declaration of Irrevocable Waiver of Immunity” which waived “its sovereign immunity to enforcement of real property taxation through foreclosure by state, county and local governments within and throughout the United States.” The Oneida Indian Nation recognized the inherent danger of the Court’s review of the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and informed the Court that it had taken this step “to clarify that, as contemplated by its prior posting of letters of credit covering taxes on all lands at issue in this case, it is prepared to make payment on all taxes that are lawfully due.” Evidently, the Court was persuaded that the declaration and waiver moots the primary question presented.

Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the Project, last week the Court granted review in United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, a case involving a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which upheld right of Indian tribes as beneficiaries to obtain all information relating to the management of their tribal trust funds by the United States. The Federal Circuit found that the federal government “cannot deny an Indian tribe’s request to discover communications between the United States and its attorneys based on the attorney-client privilege when those communications concern the management of an Indian trust and the United States has not claimed that the government or its attorneys considered a specific competing interest in those communications.” The Federal Circuit adopted the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege in tribal trust cases which permits a beneficiary to discover information relating to fiduciary matters (including trust management). The Project will continue to work with the Tribe and all interested parties to secure the best possible result.

Click to read the full Update Memo.