Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk attends White House meeting on voting rights

On Monday, July 29, NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk attended a meeting at the White House with President Obama and senior administration officials to discuss the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Shelby vs. Holder and the Voting Rights Act.  Representatives from civil rights groups and local elected officials were in attendance. After the meeting, John stated: “The President and his administration pledged to work with us to make sure everyone can vote, which is their Constitutional right.”

To read the amicus brief that NARF submitted in Shelby County, click here.  To learn more about the new voting rights case recently filed by NARF, click here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

NARF welcomes 2013 summer law clerk Steven Seber

Each summer NARF hosts the summer clerkship program, a ten to twelve week program for second year law students. 

Steven Seber is a J.D. Candidate at Stanford University and member of the Creek Nation.  He is the Co-President of the Stanford Law School Veteran’s organization, a member editor of the Stanford Law and Policy Review, and a member of the Native American Law Students Association.  Prior to attending law school, Steven attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the U.S. Army for eight years.

Steven is a current summer law clerk in NARF’s Boulder office.  To learn more about NARF’s law clerk program, click here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

South Carolina Supreme Court Denies Rights to Baby Veronica; National Native Organizations to Advance Civil Rights Lawsuit

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled today to deny the appeal filed by Dusten Brown and the Cherokee Nation of the Court’s July 17 order to expedite the transfer of custody of Veronica Brown to the South Carolina-based adoptive couple. One year ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court found that denying the adoption and awarding custody to Dusten Brown was in Veronica’s best interests. Today, that same Court summarily reversed that decision based on a two-year-old record and without providing a hearing for Veronica. Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling:
“The South Carolina Supreme Court has utterly failed to evaluate Veronica’s current best interests in this case and confirmed our worst fears – when it comes to Veronica Brown, standard adoption procedures do not apply. Apparently, the Court believes that there is no need to require the family court to hold a formal and thoughtful hearing to determine what is in Veronica Brown’s best interest. Like thousands of Native American children before her, Veronica now faces the prospect of being removed from her Cherokee family, without a formal consideration of her needs, her culture and her well-being. This is an alarming failure of the judicial system, and it represents a grave threat to all children in adoption proceedings, but most notably Native American children, who deserve all the legal protections, afforded any child in this nation.”
“The National Congress of American Indians refuses to stand by as the rights of this child are violated.  Together with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association we are preparing to file litigation in order to protect Veronica’s civil rights.  On behalf of all Native American children, we will pursue every legal option available to us to ensure that standard adoption procedures are upheld in this case.” 
“Let me add that I believe the South Carolina Supreme Court has shown willful disregard for the facts when it claims Dusten Brown has not been involved in the life of his daughter. On the contrary, Dusten Brown has gone to extensive lengths to maintain his family and to care for Veronica. The Court’s willingness to ignore these facts and rush a resolution in this matter is deeply troubling.”

Registration open for Symposium on the Settlement of Indian Reserved Water Rights

On August 13-15, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Western States Water Council (WSWC) will co-sponsor the 2013 Symposium on the Settlement of Indian Reserved Water Rights Claims.  The event will be held at the Hilton Santa Fe at Buffalo Thunder and Continuing Legal Education credit will be available for attorneys who attend.  Click here to view the draft agenda and access registration information.

The Hilton Santa Fe at Buffalo Thunder is located north of the Santa Fe Plaza on Highway 84/285 North.  Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) is located 20 minutes southwest of the resort and Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) is located 75 minutes south.  The Rail Runner Express commuter train now connects Albuquerque and Santa Fe and shuttle service is available from there.  Please join us!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NARF welcomes 2013 summer law clerk LaTanya Gabaldon-Cochran

Each summer NARF hosts the summer clerkship program, a ten to twelve week program for second year law students.  LaTanya Gabaldon-Cochran is a member of the Hopi Tribe and a current law clerk in NARF’s Washington, D.C. office.  LaTanya is a rising third year law student in the Indian Law Certificate Program at the University of North Dakota School of Law.  At UND, LaTanya serves as the President of the Native American Law Student Association.  LaTanya received her B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a minor in Ethnic Studies from Northern Arizona University.  Last summer she interned for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota and the Tribal Judicial Institute. 

To learn more about NARF’s law clerk program, click here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Alaska Natives sue over voting rights violations

Last Friday the Native American Rights Fund and co-counsel Wilson Elser filed suit in federal court charging Alaska state elections officials with ongoing violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.  The suit claims state officials have failed to provide language assistance to citizens whose first language is Yup’ik, the primary language of many Alaska Natives in the Dillingham and Wade Hampton regions. The relief the plaintiffs have requested includes implementing procedures in the Dillingham and Wade Hampton areas similar to those secured by Alaska Natives in the Bethel area in the Nick, et al. v. Bethel, et al. litigation, requiring state election officials to obtain approval from the federal court or the Attorney General of the United States for any changes in those procedures, and to appoint federal observers to oversee future elections in the two regions.  “Language assistance” requires translating ballots and other election materials and information into Yup’ik and providing trained bilingual staff to register voters and to help voters at the polls through complete, accurate, and uniform translations.

Natalie Landreth, Senior Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said: “The law requires state elections officials to provide language assistance to voters in Yup’ik and all of its dialects in all covered regions of Alaska, including Dillingham and Wade Hampton.  Without complete, accurate, and uniform translations, the right to register and to vote is rendered meaningless for many Native voters.”

“State election officials continue to ignore their responsibilities to Alaska Natives,” said James Tucker, co-counsel at Wilson Elser.  “That indifference has contributed to depressed voter participation in the neglected Native communities, including some with turnout 20 to 30 percent lower than turnout in non-Native communities.  It is unfortunate that Native voters have had to turn to the federal court to secure their fundamental right to vote.”

The voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution prohibit state officials from denying the right to vote on account of race or color, which federal courts have found includes Native voters.

To read a fully copy of the press release, click here.  For a copy of the complaint, click here.  And, click here for recent press regarding the case.

Native American Rights Fund, National Congress of American Indians, and National Indian Child Welfare Association announce pursuit of civil rights lawsuit for Baby Veronica

Three of the nation’s leading tribal organizations announced today they are in the early stages of pursuing litigation to protect the civil rights of Veronica Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who has been denied due process in the South Carolina courts.

Late Wednesday of last week the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a controversial order to the state’s family court calling for an expedited transfer of custody to the South Carolina-based adoptive couple without a hearing of best interest for Veronica.   It is standard procedure that adoption proceedings require a hearing to determine the best interest of the child in advance of any transfer proceedings, an essential step the South Carolina Supreme Court failed to take, thus denying Veronica the right to have her best interests considered.
Leaders of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) said they were compelled to begin a process to represent the rights of Veronica in the situation, based on the Court’s order.

“When it comes to adoption proceedings, every court in this country has a legal obligation to put the best interests of a child first – every time, no matter the race of the child. This did not happen here. The South Carolina Court’s order represents a perilous prospect for not only Veronica, but any child involved in a custody proceeding in this country,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of NCAI.  “In a rush to judgment, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered Veronica to be removed from her biological father without any consideration for her best interests.  The decision contributes to the long and sordid history of Native American children being removed from their families without any consideration of their best interests. The National Congress of American Indians refuses to stand by as the rights of this child are violated.”
Terry Cross, Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association outlined the history of best interest determinations within the case and how they run contrary to the order issued by the court last Wednesday:

“Two years ago, both the South Carolina Supreme Court and Family Courts held best interest hearings and determined that it was in Veronica’s best interest to be with her father and that he was fit parent,” said Cross. “As a result the South Carolina Supreme Court transferred custody to Mr. Brown. The legal system worked then, but it is being ignored now. It is unconscionable that no best interest hearing has been held in conjunction with the latest transfer order. Every child deserves to have his or her best interests considered – that is a fundamental right, and one that should not be denied any child.”

The previous ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the father establishing that putting Veronica in Brown’s care was in best interest. No best interest has ever been established for a transfer to the adoptive couple during the entire time of the case. The organization’s pointed to the court’s findings to favor Brown, thus leading to the placement (see original decision):
“The family court found persuasive the testimony that Father was a good father who enjoyed a close relationship with his other daughter…” (p.22)
“We can only conclude from the evidence presented at trial that Father desires to be a parent to Baby Girl, and that he and his family have created a safe, loving, and appropriate home for her….” (p.23)
“Likewise, we cannot say that Baby Girl's best interests are not served by the grant of custody to Father, as Appellants have not presented evidence that Baby Girl would not be safe, loved, and cared for if raised by Father and his family.” (p.26)
Additionally, the presenters addressed the issue that certain provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act no longer applied. Cross identified that in the court’s own decision in the original case it was stated that;

‘South Carolina courts have a long history of determining custody disputes based on the "best interests of the child.”…This important history is not replaced by the ICWA's mandate.” (p.24)

The organization’s also highlighted the comments of Paul Clement the official representative for the child in the U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments, and the lawyer arguing for attorney for the Guardian Ad Litem, stating that if remanded back to the South Carolina Court there was every expectation that a hearing of best interest for Veronica must be held in order to uphold her rights;
“I'm here representing the guardian who represents the best interest of the child. From the child's perspective, the child really doesn't care whose fault it was when they were brought in one custodial situation or another. They just want a determination that focuses on at the relevant time, that time, what's in their best interest. And so in the same way that we think if you rule in our favor and you remand to the lower court that there has to be a best interest determination that takes into account the current situation,” (p.24)
Click here to access the full transcript (p.24) and audio of this exchange between Clement and Justices. 
John Echohawk, Executive Director of NARF, the nation’s leading non-profit law firm which has represented the interests of Indians and Indian tribes in federal and state courts since 1970 outlined the next steps to be taken by the organizations:
As you know, the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued its order last Wednesday, and gave Dusten and the Cherokee Nation five (5) days to file their petitions for rehearing.  Those petitions will be filed today. 
When, as anticipated, the Supreme Court of South Carolina denies those petitions for rehearing, its order will become final and this case will be remanded to the State Family Court [quote] “for the prompt entry of an order approving and finalizing Adoptive Couple’s adoption of Baby Girl” [end quote].  As reflected in the order, the courts of the State of South Carolina can summarily terminate Dusten’s rights as a father and—without any hearing on what is in the best interests of this Indian child—and without any regard for due process of law to protect her civil rights—can remove Baby Veronica from her Indian father, her Indian family, and her Indian tribe with whom she has been living with for the past 18 months.
As Executive Director of NARF, I have instructed my legal staff to work with local counsel in South Carolina and Oklahoma to determine our best legal recourse through the federal courts to protect the rights of Baby Veronica.  In this case, we strongly believe that federal civil rights laws are being violated, that other applicable provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act are being ignored by the state courts, and that the principles underlying treaty and international law protecting the rights of indigenous peoples are being undermined.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NARF responds to South Carolina Supreme Court decision regarding Baby Veronica

Native American Rights Fund logo

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) joins with the Brown family, the Cherokee Nation, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and many others inside and outside of Indian Country who are expressing their outrage over the South Carolina Supreme Court’s imprudent order effectively granting the adoption of Veronica without due process of law or a hearing to determine what is in her best interest.

NARF encourages all of the state attorneys general, adoption and child welfare organizations, past and present members of Congress, religious organizations, and others who submitted briefs in this case to express their concern and join with Indian Country to take all necessary steps to stop the forced removal of this Indian child from her Indian father, her Indian family, and her Indian community.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NILL Library Director presents on access to tribal law at the American Association of Law Libraries annual conference

Earlier this week David Selden, the Library Director at the National Indian Law Library (NILL), presented on access to and collection of tribal law materials at the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries.  NILL is a public law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law.  NILL serves the public by developing and making accessible a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and assisting people with their Indian law-related information needs.  Click here to learn more about David’s presentation.  And, click here to learn more about NILL.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issues decision in important subsistence case, Katie John v. United States

On July 3, 2013, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming the federal district court’s decisions upholding the 1999 Final Rules promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to implement part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act concerning subsistence fishing and hunting rights.

In 2005, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit challenging a federal agency final rule implementing the mandate in a prior Alaska Native subsistence case which established that the United States must protect subsistence uses of fisheries in navigable waters where the United States possesses a reserved water right.  Alaska v. Babbitt, 72 F.3d 698 (9th Cir. 1995) (“Katie John I”).  The State challenged the federal agencies' implementation of the mandate by arguing that the reserved waters doctrine requires a quantification of waters necessary to fulfill specific purposes.  Katie John moved for limited intervention for purposes of filing a motion to dismiss for failure to join an indispensable party.  In 2007 the court upheld the agency's rule making process identifying navigable waters in Alaska that fall within federal jurisdiction for purposes of federal subsistence priority.

To counter the State’s challenge, Katie John, Tanana, Charles Erhart and the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to challenge the federal agencies' final rule as being too restrictive in its scope.  Katie John alleged that the federal agencies should have included Alaska Native allotments as public lands and that the federal government's interest in water extends upstream and downstream from Conservation Units established under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.  The State of Alaska intervened and challenged the regulations as illegally extending federal jurisdiction to state waters.  In 2009 the Court upheld the agencies' final rule as reasonable.  While rejecting Katie John's claim that the agency had a duty to identify all of its federally-reserved water rights in upstream and downstream waters, the court stated that the agency could do so at some future time if necessary to fulfill the purposes of the reserve.  The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit’s decision last week is an important affirmance of the fishing priority in those federal waters identified by the agency rule-making. The State of Alaska will have the option of seeking rehearing in front of the 9th Circuit, or asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

To read NARF’s full press release on the decision, click here.  To read a copy of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, click here.  And, to read a history of the litigation and Katie John’s life and legacy, click here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NARF welcomes 2013 summer law clerk Charity Payton

Every summer NARF’s three offices host law clerks—all current law students.  Charity Payton is a J.D. candidate at the University of Wyoming College of Law and a current law clerk in NARF’s Alaska office.  As a rising second year law student, she is the Vice President of American Constitution Society, Secretary for the Multicultural Law Student Association, and a member of Wyoming Law Students for Equal Justice.  Prior to entering law school, Charity was dedicated to working in the field of social services on behalf of those with developmental disabilities.  She received her B.S. in anthropology from Western Oregon University. 

Charity is working with NARF’s Alaska office through Seattle University School of Law’s Study Law in Alaska Program.  And, for more information on NARF’s summer law clerk program, click here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

NARF welcomes 2013 summer law clerk Samuel Kohn

Each summer NARF hosts the summer clerkship program, a ten to twelve week program for second year law students.  Samuel Kohn is a member of the Crow Tribe of Montana and a current law clerk in NARF’s Boulder office.  Samuel received his J.D. in December 2012 from the University of Wisconsin Law School.  While attending law school, Samuel was a managing editor on the Wisconsin Law Review and worked with the Frank J. Remington Center Oxford Federal Project, the Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., Indian Law Office, and the Native American Rights Fund.  Samuel received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, and will be entering a judicial clerkship in Montana in Fall 2013. 

To learn more about NARF’s law clerk program, click here.