Wednesday, July 30, 2014

NARF Staff Attorney Brett Lee Shelton presents at 2014 Pathways to Respecting American Indian Civil Rights Conference

Earlier this month the 2014 Pathways to Respecting American Indian Civil Rights Conference took place in Denver, Colorado.  NARF Staff Attorney Brett Lee Shelton presented on both “Federal Indian Boarding School Policy and Important Impacts of the Policy in 2014” and “History of United States Federal Indian Law and Policy: Intersectionality of Issues Across Federal Service Delivery Areas.”

The Conference was a great opportunity for civil rights advocates to come together.  Pictured here, left to right, are: Steve Chavez of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission; Lesley Kabotie of
Indigenous Collaboration; Brett Lee Shelton, NARF Staff Attorney; John Dulles, former U.S. Commissioner on Civil Rights; and Jeremy Rodriguez from Representative Ed Perlmutter’s Office.

To learn more about the history of the boarding school era and outlines NARF’s efforts to secure justice and healing for the multi-generational victims, click here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NARF seeking applicants for 2015 summer law clerk program

NARF is currently seeking candidates for our 2015 Summer Law Clerk Program! Each year, NARF conducts a nation-wide search for law students to participate in our  Summer Law Clerk Program, a ten- to twelve-week position for students who have completed their second year of law school.  Clerks are expected to work at least 40 hours per week during this period and are compensated with salaries comparable to those of the federal government and other non-profit law firms.  Positions are available in all three of NARF’s offices: Anchorage, Alaska; Boulder, Colorado; and Washington, D.C.  September 29, 2014 is the deadline to apply.  

For additional information, follow this link!

Monday, July 28, 2014

NARF welcomes Summer Law Clerk Stevie Lemke

Stevie Lemke
This summer, we’re highlighting the law students who were chosen to participate in NARF’s Law Clerk Program.  Stevie Lemke, Eastern Band Cherokee, is a summer law clerk in NARF’s Boulder, Colorado, office.  Stevie is a rising 3L at Lewis & Clark Law School and last summer she interned at the National Indian Gaming Commission in Washington, D.C.  She is the President of the Lewis & Clark chapter of the Native American Law Students Association and is a Quinault Allottees Nelson D. Terry Scholarship recipient.  As an undergraduate, she worked in the area of Native American language revitalization, language acquisition, and language learning and teaching methodology.  Her legal interests include the intersection of Indian law with intellectual property and the protection of contemporary Indian art and culture.  Welcome, Stevie!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Alaska Supreme Court affirms full faith and credit to tribal court orders in Simmonds v. Parks decision

This morning, the Alaska Supreme Court issued its opinion in Simmonds v. Parks.  The Court ruled the Minto Tribal Court’s order terminating Mr. Parks’ parental rights was entitled to full faith and credit and remanded the matter back to the superior court to be dismissed.  Today’s decision ends the long-running case and reaffirms the respect owed to tribal courts when deciding issues that concern tribal children.


In June 2008, the Minto Tribal Court took emergency custody of an infant girl.  After numerous hearings in which the parents participated, the Minto Tribal Court terminated the parental rights of the girl’s mother and father, Mr. Parks, and granted permanent custody of the child to the Simmonds who are relatives of the child’s mother.  Mr. Parks did not appeal the decision in the Minto Tribal Court, but instead filed a series of lawsuits in federal and state court claiming, among other things, that the tribal court has no jurisdiction over him and that the Minto Tribal Court’s traditional practices and procedures violated his right to due process.  Based on these arguments, Mr. Parks claimed that the tribal court termination order was not entitled to full faith and credit under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  The Simmonds argued that the termination order is entitled to full faith and credit, and they moved to dismiss the state court action, but this motion was denied by the superior court in November 2010.

The Simmonds petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for review.  The petition was granted, and the case was remanded to the superior court for it to make specific factual findings and legal conclusions.  The superior court issued findings and concluded in part that tribal courts may not have jurisdiction over nonmembers and also suggested that the Minto Tribal Court’s traditional practices and procedures violated Mr. Parks’s right to due process.  The Simmonds filed another petition for review with the Alaska Supreme Court asking that numerous aspects of this decision be reversed. 

The State of Alaska intervened in the case and argued vigorously against the Minto Tribal Court’s jurisdiction and the use of the Tribal Court’s traditional law and processes.  Attorney General Geraghty himself published an opinion piece on the case.  These actions are consistent with the State’s 2004 Renkes Opinion and subsequent lawsuits in which the State has refused to recognize the authority of tribal courts over member children, including State v. Native Village of Tanana, Kaltag Tribal Council v. Jackson, and the ongoing State v. Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

The Alaska Supreme Court’s Decision:

In its opinion today, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed that the Minto Tribal Court’s decision is entitled to full faith and credit by Alaska courts.  The Court affirmed that the Minto Tribal Court’s judgment on the custody of the child implicates interests that are at the core of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and the Court rejected the State’s jurisdictional arguments to the contrary.  In addition, the Court’s opinion is notable because it adopts the longstanding exhaustion of tribal remedies doctrine, which requires litigants to make use of tribal appellate courts before challenging tribal court decisions in federal or state courts. 

NARF Staff Attorney Erin Dougherty described the Court’s analysis of full faith and credit and the tribal exhaustion doctrine as “a direct rebuke of the State of Alaska’s arguments, which sought to treat the decisions of tribal courts differently simply because they are Tribes.  These arguments have no foundation in federal law and do a great disservice to the relationships between Tribes and the State of Alaska.”  NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth agreed, noting that “the Court’s decision today is entirely consistent with federal and state law.”

In this case, the Native Village of Minto did what it and the 228 other Tribes in Alaska have done since time immemorial—protect and care for their member children in times of need.  The Native American Rights Fund calls on Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General Geraghty to cease the State’s repeated efforts to oppose tribal courts and instead, work with Tribes to better protect all of Alaska’s children.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

NARF welcomes Summer Law Clerk Courtney Cole

Courtney ColeCourtney Cole is a summer law clerk in NARF’s Boulder, Colorado, office.  Courtney is Cherokee and Choctaw and is a third-year student at the University of Colorado Law School.  She serves as president of the Native American Law Students Association, recently completed a year as a student attorney with the American Indian Law Clinic, and plans to earn a certificate in American Indian law.  Courtney’s areas of interest include American Indian and natural resources, particularly water, law.  A native of Southern California, she looks forward to returning after graduation to begin her career in tribal legal advocacy.

Welcome, Courtney!

Friday, July 11, 2014

NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth discusses Native voting rights on Native America Calling

Earlier this week NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth appeared on Native America Calling’s “Voting Rights in 2014” show.  The show discussed the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder and how that decision might impact the upcoming 2014 elections.  Voting rights advocates across Native America, including NARF, have closely followed the decision.  If you’re interested in learning more and listening to the show, follow this link!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

NARF welcomes 2014 Summer Law Clerk Josett Monette

Josett Monette is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota and the current law clerk in NARF’s Washington D.C. office.  Josett is a rising third year law student in the Indian Law Certificate Program at the University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL).  At UNMSOL, Josett is a member of the Native American Law Student Association and served as the New Mexico State Bar’s Indian Law Section Student Liaison this past school year.  Josett received her B.A. in Indian Studies and B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education-Social Studies in 2006, and a Graduate Certificate in English Language Learning and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership in 2009 from the University of North Dakota.  Last summer she was a Teaching Assistant for the Federal Indian Law class at the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI).  She is also the proud mother of three beautiful children: Ayvah, Lupe, and Jude.  Welcome, Josett!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NIGA makes annual commitment to Native American Rights Fund – challenges member tribes to join in this annual commitment

Pictured above - NARF Assistant Director of
Development Don Ragona, NARF Executive Director
John Echohawk, and NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr.
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has received a commitment for $5,000 annually from the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), to be used for general operating expenses and special projects.  The announcement came on May 13 during the general session at NIGA’s annual trade show and conference in San Diego. Simultaneously with the announcement, NIGA issued a challenge to its tribal membership to match their annual commitment to NARF and if possible to give more annually.

“This generous challenge grant will help provide NARF much needed funding for and focus on our legal work insuring the survival of tribes and their ways of life,” said Executive Director John E. Echohawk. “Our deepest thanks go to the National Indian Gaming Association and their dedication to the legal rights of Indian Country.”

NIGA’s challenge to its tribal membership is a testament to the value and impact of NARF’s work.  Tribal contributions are extremely important to help underwrite NARF’s vital efforts on behalf of Indian country.  NIGA’s tribal membership, through its own action, is taking the lead in helping to ensure NARF’s future.

“The National Indian Gaming Association is committed to Native rights and the preservation of tribal sovereignty,” said NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr.  “This cornerstone gift to the Native American Rights Fund and challenge to our Members tangibly expresses our belief in the importance of the outstanding work that they do.”

The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit organization that has been protecting the legal and sovereign rights of tribes and Native people within the American legal system for more than 44 years.  NARF is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with offices in Anchorage, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.  Since its founding in 1970, NARF has represented more than 275 tribes in 31 states in matters that have had a significant impact on the rights of all Indian people throughout the country. NARF works to empower tribes so they can continue to live according to their Native traditions, enforce their treaty rights, insure their independence on reservations, and protect their sovereignty. NARF strives to enforce and strengthen laws that are designed to protect the rights of Native Americans to practice their traditional religions, use their own languages, and enjoy their cultures. NARF also works with tribes to improve education for and ensure the welfare of their children.

The National Indian Gaming Association, established in 1985, is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing organizations, tribes, and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country. The common commitment and purpose of NIGA is to advance the lives of Indian peoples economically, socially, and politically. NIGA operates as a clearinghouse and educational, legislative, and public policy resource for tribes, policymakers, and the public on Indian gaming issues and tribal community development. For more information on NIGA, click here.

For more information, please contact Donald M. Ragona, NARF’s Assistant Director of Development/Development House Counsel at (303) 447-8760.

Monday, July 7, 2014

NARF co-cponsors Indigenous Film event celebrating Native lacrosse, skateboarding, and The Stronghold Society's Live Life movement

NARF is proud to co-sponsor another year of Indigenous Film @ Su Teatro, a monthly indigenous film series.  NARF co-sponsors the series with the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management and the Denver American Indian Commission.  The July 9th program will be a screening of short films celebrating Native lacrosse, skateboarding, and the Stronghold Society's Live Life movement.  The films include:
Screenshot from The Game of Life: Heart and Spirit of the Onongdaga
The Game of Life: Heart and Spirit of the Onondaga. Made in consultation with Crooked Arrows co-producer and three-time All-American in lacrosse, Neal J. Powless (Onondaga Nation), the film explores the cultural and spiritual significance of lacrosse to the people of the Onondaga Nation. The documentary has been nominated for a New York Emmy. (Onondaga Nation, 2012, 14 min.).

VANS Pass The Bucket: Jeff Ament (episode 6). Jeff Ament, bassist and co-founder of Pearl Jam, has made it a mission to pay-it-back as an activist, philanthropist, and skate park builder. Growing up with humble beginnings in rural Montana, Jeff witnessed both the tranquility of rural life and the difficulties of growing up in extremely isolated areas. Luckily, Jeff found skateboarding and the self-confidence that it can inspire. Remembering his roots and the positive effects of skateboarding, Jeff is helping build epic skate parks in the rural West, including one on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Directed by Lukas Korver. Special thanks to all the Pine Ridge Park supporters: Jeff Ament & Montana Pool Service, Jim Murphy & Wounded Knee Skateboards, Walt Pourier & The Stronghold Society, Mark Hubbard & Grindline Skateparks, Pearl Jam's Vitalogy Foundation, The Tony Hawk Foundation, Vans, Ben Harper, Chris Sacca, The Eagle Bull Family.

Please join us on Wednesday, July 9, at SU TEATRO, 721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.  Doors will open at 6:00 pm and the film will begin at 6:30 pm!