Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November 1, 2013

 Native American Legal Nonprofits: “Stay Away from Supreme Court
Condensed by Native Village
Native Am

In the 1970s, Indian tribes and interests were doing well in the Supreme Court of the United States.
of the Indian law cases presented to SCOTUS, 75% have resulted in significant losses.

Native Americans are displeased with how Indian Country non-profit cases are faring in the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) have joined to create the Tribal Supreme Court Project (TSCP)

John E. Echohawk is executive director of the Native American Rights Fund. He says the TSCP involves NARF and the NCAI working “with tribal attorneys and tribal leaders and Indian law professors and Supreme Court practitioners across the country on each of these cases as it approached the Supreme Court or gets accepted by the Supreme Court…to help the parties involved come up with the best approach, the best arguments that all of us can help put together.”

Echohawk is concerned, however, that “basically any issue headed for the Supreme Court is probably not going to be decided in favor of the tribes.” As a result, NARF and NCAI are advising groups “to stay away from the Supreme Court if at all possible.”

One major problem is the composition of SCOTUS and the lower federal courts:
SCOTUS justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have never voted pro-Indian.
When an opening appeared on the federal bench, Obama nominated Arvo Mikannen, a Kiowa attorney from Oklahoma.  Senate Republicans blocked his confirmation.


Interview with John Echohawk 

A huge area of contention for Indians involves Supreme Court cases that require justices to interpret the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  The most notable is the pending Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community case.

Jefferson Keel, NCAI president, and Echohawk say the Bay Mills case has grown into “a full frontal attack on tribal sovereign immunity and the authority of states to regulate ‘gaming activity’ under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

They say the case should focus only on the merits of the tribe’s ability to conduct gaming on land outside its reservation. This tribal land, acquired with Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act Funds, is more than 100 miles away.

The Bay Mill's case has become high-stakes litigation for tribes across the country because Michigan is challenging “the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and the authority of states under IGRA.”  Because of this his broader scope, Michigan has received substantial support from other states and non-Indian property rights groups.

The Bay Mills case comes up for oral argument at the Supreme Court on December 2nd.

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