SCOTUS Rules in U.S. v. Bryant

June 15, 2016

A decision in U.S. v. Bryant was released Monday. The case raises the question of whether a provision in the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribal court convictions to be considered when determining repeat offender status for the purposes of sentencing, is a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants appointed counsel in any state or federal criminal proceeding in which a term of imprisonment is imposed, however the Sixth Amendment does not apply in tribal court. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Bryant’s convictions in tribal court, where he was not represented by counsel, were valid at the time they were entered and therefore they were valid as prior convictions in determining Bryant’s status as a repeat offender. A copy of the decision is here. For an analysis of the court’s decision, check Turtle Talk.

Supreme Court Discusses the Source of Sovereignty

June 9, 2016

In majority and dissenting opinions regarding Puerto Rico and double jeopardy, the Supreme Court headed down the road to defining the source of Tribal sovereignty. Is it inherent or is it bestowed by Congress? An Indian law crisis was averted, as the justices landed on inherent, but it’s interesting to read their reasoning on the subject. 

The opinions are summarized here on Turtle Talk by Matthew Fletcher. 

This Day in History: Congress Passes Indian Citizenship Act

June 2, 2016


President Calvin Coolidge with Sioux Chiefs

Though many Native Americans were already citizens through marriage or military service, the Indian Citizenship Act, passed by Congress on this day in 1924, extended citizenship to all Native Americans. Even though they were granted citizenship by the Congress, Native Americans were denied the right to vote in many states for a good part of the 20th century.

Army Agrees to Repatriate the Remains of Children who Died at Carlisle

May 16, 2016

The remains of Indian children who died at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania may soon be returned to their respective tribes. During formal government-to-government consultations that took place in Rosebud, S.D. last week, Army officials surprised a tense meeting-hall gathering by consenting to the demands of the Rosebud Sioux to return the remains of 10 Rosebud children – and to pay the cost of doing so. Two other tribes have made similar requests. The government pledged that, through the official process for disinterments, it would accommodate all tribes that come forward. To read more and view photos from the school, go here.

Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative Awarded Grant to Study Tribal Food Systems

April 26, 2016

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $189,983 grant to the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, based in the University of Arkansas School of Law, to study the link between tribal food policy and community health.

The study of the linkage between tribal food policy and the health in tribal communities comes at a time when the health disparities related to food insecurity in Indian Country are at crisis levels.

According to the 2015 report “Feeding Ourselves,” Native Americans continue to suffer from serious health problems and their average life expectancy is nearly five years less than other Americans. In addition:

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative enhances health and wellness in tribal communities by advancing healthy food systems, diversified economic development and cultural food traditions in Indian Country. The initiative empowers tribal governments, farmers, ranchers and food businesses by providing strategic planning and technical assistance; by creating new academic and professional education programs in food systems and agriculture; and by increasing student enrollment in land grant universities in food and agricultural related disciplines. 

Read more about this initiative here.

Senate Passes the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendment

April 21, 2016

The Senate passed the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendment, as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S.2012. This national energy bill passed the full Senate by a vote of 85 to 12.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included Title V for Indian energy to deal with the delays and uncertainties inherent in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ energy-leasing process. It will provide Indian tribes with an alternate way of developing energy resources.
The amendment (and S.209) also addresses several aspects of Indian energy development, including a “biomass demonstration project” for energy production from Indian forest lands, rangelands and other federal lands in accordance with requirements developed by the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture after consultation with tribes. It would facilitate the development of biomass projects by providing tribes with access to more reliable and potentially long-term supplies of woody biomass materials. It will also streamline the process for approving tribal energy resource agreements.

SCOTUS to Hear Oral Arguments in US v. Bryant

April 13, 2016

Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in U.S. v. Bryant. The court will be asked to determine if domestic violence convictions in tribal court for a defendant who was not represented by counsel should count in determining repeat offender status when sentencing in state courts. Here is an analysis of the case and a preview of the arguments.

Western Energy Alliance Sues Interior over Rights of Way Rule

April 11, 2016

The Western Energy Alliance is suing the Department of the Interior over proposed rules regarding rights of way on Indian land. The suit charges the proposed rule: violates Strate v. A-1 Contractors, because it attempts to allow Indian tribes to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians within rights-of-way; improperly allows Indian tribes to unilaterally terminate rights-of-way; violates traditional rules regarding tribal jurisdiction; authorizes Indian tribes to tax activities within rights-of-way in violation of the scope of tribal jurisdiction and that the department has failed to explain the basis for its departure from longstanding federal policy regarding rights of way. Read more here.

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, Last War Chief of the Crow Tribe, Dies

April 5, 2016

Joseph Medicine Crow, the last war chief of the Crow Tribe in Montanan and the last surviving person to have heard first hand accounts of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, died Sunday, April 3. He was 102. His death was reported by the Billings Gazette.

Medicine Crow, or “High Bird” in the Crow language, was known for his works on Native American history, including his own documentation of his tribe’s firsthand accounts of reservation life. The National Park Service also credited Medicine Crow as the last surviving person to have heard oral accounts of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, including stories from his grandmother’s brother, White Man Runs Him, who served as a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

In statement released by the White House, President Obama said the following:

In Crow, you’d say Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was a bacheitche – a good man.  The first of his people to go to college and earn a Master’s, he wore war paint beneath his uniform and an eagle feather beneath his helmet during World War II.  His bravery in battle earned him the Bronze Star from America, the Legion d’honneur from France, and in 2009, I was proud to honor him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Yet I suspect his greatest honor was one he earned from his people: the title of war chief – the last Crow to hold that distinction. 

Dr. Medicine Crow dedicated much of his life to sharing the stories of his culture and his people.  And in doing so, he helped shape a fuller history of America for us all.  Michelle and I honor 102 years of a life well lived, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Crow Nation. 


Seminole Petition Supreme Court to Hear Utility Tax Case

March 14, 2016

The Seminole Tribe is petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case — Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Stranburg 15-1064. At issue in the case is whether a state-imposed utility tax itemized on the tribe’s bill is an impermissible direct tax on the tribe.

Florida imposes a tax on gross receipts from utility services that are delivered to retail customers. Under express statutory authority, utility providers may separately itemize this utility tax on a customer’s bill and add it to the total charge for utility services. If the utility provider does so, the customer is legally required to remit the tax to the utility provider, which then transfers the payment to the State. The Seminole Tribe has purchased utility services delivered to tribal reservations and the providers separately itemize the utility tax when billing the Tribe for such services. The tribe argues that this is an impermissible direct tax on the tribe.

You can read the entire petition here.

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