Friday, May 30, 2014

NARF Staff Attorney Joel West Williams publishes article on the law regarding traditional religious practices for Native inmates

NARF Staff Attorney Joel West Williams has published an article on the law regarding traditional religious practices for Native inmates.  The article discusses American Indian religious practices, the persistent misunderstanding among correctional institutions regarding the role of traditional religious practices in American Indian life and the rehabilitation of American Indian inmates, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  The article was published in the May/June issue of American Jails magazine—to read a copy, click here.

NARF hosts National Day of Prayer for the Protection of Native American Sacred Places

Protect Native American Sacred Spaces
Please join us for a sunrise ceremony at 7:00am on Friday, June 20, on the front lawn of the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado, for the National Day of Prayer for the Protection of Native American Sacred Places.  The program and prayer service will last about one hour, followed by a potluck breakfast.  Speakers will include Ute elder Kenny Frost, and NARF staff attorneys involved in sacred places work.  Speakers will be followed by a moment of silence in honor of the many sacred places that are being threatened, damaged, and destroyed today.

As part of its mission, the Native American Rights Fund has long advocated for sacred site protection, religious freedom efforts, and cultural rights.  Recently, NARF expanded its efforts to protect lands that are sacred and precious to Native Americans.  As Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), a national leader in the protection of sacred places and partner with NARF in its efforts in the area, explains, “Native and non-Native people gather at this Solstice time for ceremonies and events to honor sacred places . . . . Observances are necessary because Native Peoples are engaged in myriad struggles with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places.”

Please show your support for the protection of sacred places by joining us for the June 20th program.  We ask you to please bring food and/or beverages to share at the completion of the program.  Sharing of nourishment together is part of the ceremony.

For more information, please contact NARF at (303) 447-8760.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Sovereign Immunity in Michigan v. Bay Mills

Yesterday in a stunning victory for Indian tribes, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, reaffirming the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity.  In a 5-to-4 decision, Justice Kagan, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Sotomayor, upheld the lower court’s decision that that Indian tribal governments possess sovereign immunity against lawsuits, including lawsuits brought by state governments, and reaffirmed the principle that it is for Congress, not the Court, to determine the circumstances where Indian tribes should be subject to suit.  In an unexpected development, Chief Justice Roberts provided the crucial fifth vote to secure this legal victory, having not voted in favor of tribal interests in a single case since he joined the Court in 2005.

The lawsuit had its origin in a dispute between the State of Michigan and the Bay Mills Indian Community over whether a particular location constituted Indian lands eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but then turned into a much larger legal battle over the rights of all Indian tribes across the country.

“This is a good day for tribal governments,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby and Chairman of the Swinomish Tribe.  “Congratulations to the Bay Mills Indian Community!  We always thought this case was an overreach by the State of Michigan.  Tribal and state governments work together and find common ground all the time.  All governments are working to create jobs, educate our children, provide public safety and protect our environment.  We find agreement on thousands of issues, but every now and then we disagree.  When that happens, we have to negotiate solutions on a government-to-government basis.  That takes leadership, and we can’t take each other to court.  The Supreme Court agrees.”

Upon learning of the decision and the fact that Chief Justice Roberts voted in favor of tribal interests, NARF’s Executive Director John Echohawk’s initial response was a simple “WOW!”  After a sigh of relief, he stated:  “I am pleased that the Court today stood upon the foundational principles of Indian law that we are all familiar with, instead of changing the rules on us all the time.  The victory in this case is attributed to the hard work and dedication of the tribal leaders and attorneys for Bay Mills, as well as the on-going efforts of the Tribal Supreme Court Project.”

In parts of the opinion aside from the main holding, the Supreme Court found that the states can use other remedies to address issues off-reservation, including negotiations, permit enforcement, and lawsuits against tribal officials in their individual capacities.  A dissent written by Justice Thomas strongly disagreed with the holding, stating that sovereign immunity is a judicially created doctrine and could be modified by the Supreme Court.  However the majority emphasized that tribal sovereignty is an inherent right of Indian tribes recognized in a string of Supreme Court decisions from the founding of the United States.

NCAI and NARF filed an amicus brief before the argument, and would like to thank all of the tribal leaders and attorneys who participated in the efforts on this case.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

US Supreme Court supports Bay Mills Indian Community

Have you been following and waiting for a decision in the important tribal sovereign immunity case, Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community?  Wait no more!  This morning, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the long-standing doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and explained that it is for Congress, not the Court, to determine the circumstances where tribes should be subject to suit. This is a rare and spectacular WIN for tribal interests before the nation’s highest court.  In addition to NARF's work on the case through the Tribal Supreme Court Project, NARF also helped prepare a ‘friend of the court’ brief on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Gaming Association, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Council for Athabascan Tribal Governments, and fifty-one federally recognized tribes.
To read the Court’s opinion, follow this link.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Alaska Natives applaud introduction of Native Voting Rights Act of 2014 in the United States Senate

Yesterday, Senator Mark Begich introduced a bill in the United States Senate to protect Alaska Native voters from discrimination.  Senator Begich’s bill, the “Native Voting Rights Act of 2014” (“NatiVRA”), would require close scrutiny of the closure of polling places and voter registration in Native communities, mandate acceptance by election officials of identification cards issued by federally recognized tribes and Native corporations, and provide increased protections for Native voters who cannot understand complex voting materials written in English.  The bill creates a presumption of discrimination where Natives are denied equal access to voting and registration opportunities provided to non-Natives.  Finally, it would enhance federal oversight of voting in tribal areas and Native villages.

Julie Kitka of the Alaska Federation of Natives stated, “AFN has been working to protect the rights of Alaskans to vote for many years, this bill furthers our ability to strengthen our voice at the polls and improve voter participation across Alaska.  We commend Senator Begich and our Alaska Delegation for protecting our voting rights.”

April Ferguson, Senior Vice President at Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), added the bill would help correct some longstanding voting problems in Alaska: “Access to the polls and to comprehensible voting materials matters to all Alaska citizens no matter where they live.  This bill is designed to correct some longstanding and pervasive problems that Alaska has struggled with.  Our thanks to Senator Begich for ensuring that the Voting Rights Act applies to Alaska Natives as well as every other citizen.”

“This is an important step to ensure that Native voters have equal opportunities to participate in the democratic process,” said Natalie Landreth, Senior Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.  Ms. Landreth explained, “Senator Begich’s bill is an important complement to the Voting Rights Act Amendments Act pending in the Senate (S. 1945) and House (H.R. 3899).  NARF looks forward to working with the bipartisan leaders in the Senate and House to include Senator Begich’s bill as part of the Voting Rights Act Amendments Act.” 

AFN, BBNC, and NARF also wish to thank Senators Heitkamp, Hirono, Johnson, Tester, and Walsh for joining this important bill. 

Julie Kitka, Alaska Federation of Natives, (907) 274-3611
Natalie Landreth, Native American Rights Fund, (907) 257-0501

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NARF filed amicus brief on behalf of NCAI and AAIA in Pueblo of Jemez v. United States

Earlier this month NARF filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) in Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, a case currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The amicus brief was in support of the Pueblo, and the question at issue is an important one. 

The Pueblo of Jemez claims aboriginal title to land the United States purchased from third parties, who held it subject to the Pueblo’s aboriginal title and used the land to establish the Valles Caldera National Preservation Area.  The Pueblo sued the United States under the Quiet Title Act (QTA) to quiet title to its aboriginal title.  The United States claims that the Pueblo cannot avail itself of the waiver of sovereign immunity in the QTA because it should have brought its claim to title in the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) and accepted money damages in exchange for it.  Since it failed to avail itself of that remedy, the United States argues that it is barred from utilizing the QTA.  The Pueblo position is that the ICC did not have jurisdiction over present interests in property, but rather the Indian Claims Commission Act was a remedial statute designed to address past grievances and the Pueblo was not required to surrender its valid aboriginal title.  

To read the brief, click here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

NARF applauds historic confirmation of Diane Humetewa to be United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona

Diane Humetewa
Today, the United States Senate unanimously confirmed Diane Humetewa as a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona.  Humetewa is a member of the Hopi Tribe and is now the first American Indian woman federal judge.  She was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 2006 to 2009.

NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk congratulated Humetewa on her confirmation:  “She is well-qualified for this position and the Federal Judicial Selection Project, staffed by NARF and NCAI attorneys, has long-supported her nomination and confirmation.  With today’s historic vote, she will be the only Native American federal judge currently sitting and the first Native American woman in the federal judiciary. With this important milestone, we acknowledge that there are still a lot of judicial vacancies and accomplished, well-qualified Native American attorneys who are ready to serve.  We look forward to supporting more nominees like Judge Humetewa in the future.”

NARF Staff Attorney Joel Williams to speak at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation CLE

Later this week NARF Staff Attorney Joel Williams will speak at the Muscogee District Court’s 12th Annual Doing Business in Indian Country CLE in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Joel will address legislation affecting Indian Country in the 113th Congress, including an overview of Indian-specific bills, as well as larger issues affecting Indian Country such as the Voting Rights Act amendments, judicial nominations, and appropriations.

To learn more about the CLE, click here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk to speak at NMAI Symposium celebrating Senator Daniel K. Inouye

Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012)
Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012)
This Thursday, May 15, NARF Executive Director John E. Echohawk will speak at the National Museum of the American Indian's (NMAI) Symposium, Looking to the Future: The Life and Legacy of Senator Daniel K. Inouye.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924–2012) was the former Chairman and Vice Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and one of the founders of NMAI.  A person deeply grounded in values, community, and family, Daniel Inouye’s myriad accomplishments include, among others, legislation and support for strengthening Native sovereignty, treaties, governance, economic development, education, and health care.  Distinguished speakers who knew Senator Inouye and his work will reflect on his many contributions to the well-being of Native America.  They will look to the future to build upon the foundation of the Senator's legacy and carry forward his work for the benefit of future generations of Native people.

To review time and location details and the symposium agenda, click here. To watch the live symposium webcast on Thursday, click here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NARF joins NICWA, NCAI, and AAIA in submitting comments to the BIA on its Guidelines for state courts in Indian child custody proceedings

Last week NARF joined the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) in submitting written comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regarding its Guidelines for state courts in Indian child custody proceedings. 

The stated purpose of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is “to protect the best interest of Indian Children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children and placement of such children in homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” 25 U.S.C. § 1902.  ICWA provides states guidance regarding the handling of child abuse and neglect and adoption cases involving Native children, and it sets minimum standards for the handling of these cases.  BIA’s Guidelines were first published in 1979 to provide guidance to state courts about ICWA’s important requirements.  The BIA currently is receiving feedback on whether its Guidelines need to be revised.

The comments submitted by NICWA, NCAI, NARF, and AAIA can be found here

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Billy Frank, Jr. walks on

(Photo credit: Ted S. Warren / AP)
Former NARF board member Billy Frank Jr., died Monday, May 5, at age 83.  He was a fine man, a fiery leader, and a hero for Indian rights.  Everyone in the NARF family—members, staff, board of directors—will miss his warmth, generosity, and strength of conviction. 

A Nisqually Tribal member, Frank grew up fishing for salmon and steelhead on the Nisqually River. Frank was first arrested for salmon fishing as a boy in 1945 — an event that led him on a long campaign for tribal rights. He and others were repeatedly arrested as they staged "fish ins" demanding the right to fish in their historical waters, as they were guaranteed in treaties when they ceded land to white settlers in the 19th century.

He was on the front line when the battle over treaty-guaranteed Indian fishing rights erupted in the 1960s and 1970s. His perseverance landed him in jail more than 50 times but helped lead to reaffirming the tribal treaty fishing rights when the U.S. v. Washington (Boldt Decision) was decided in 1974. NARF represented five tribes in that litigation, including Nisqually.

The ruling, supported by the Supreme Court in 1979, reaffirmed the treaty-protected fishing rights of the tribes. Among other things, the ruling stated that the tribes have a right to catch up to fifty percent of the harvestable resource, and that the state and the tribes must manage the resource as co-managers.

As Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Frank worked to achieve a number of key agreements between the tribes and various local, state, and federal officials that further strengthen treaty-guaranteed fishing rights and environmental protection laws. His involvement in areas like the unique Timber-Fish-Wildlife Agreement, the Chelan Agreement (a water resources planning document), and the Centennial Accord placed Frank in a powerful leadership role for Indian and non-Indian alike. It’s a leadership role that’s been recognized from Olympia to Washington, D.C.

Monday, May 5, 2014

NARF Staff Attorney Steve Moore presents on Indian water rights at ATNI Mid-Year Convention

This week, NARF Staff Attorney Steve Moore will present at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) Mid-Year Convention, hosted by the Chehalis Tribe at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington.  Steve will present on Current Western and Pacific Northwest Topics Impacting Indian Water Rights.  To view the convention agenda, click here.