Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact, holding that Mont. Const. art. II, section 18 did not require the Montana Legislature to approve the Compact or its administrative provisions. The Compact, negotiated between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, provided a unified system for the administration of water rights and the resolution of disputes on the reservation. The Compact was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2015. The Flathead Board of Joint Control brought suit against the State seeking to invalidate the Compact. The district court ruled (1) the challenged section of the Compact did not contravene Article II, Section 18 because it did not enact any new immunities from suit; but (2) the challenged section of the administrative provision provided new immunity to the State and, therefore, was covered by Article II, Section 18, and because the provision did not pass by a two-thirds majority of each house, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) none of the Compact’s provisions grant any state governmental agency new immunities from a potential lawsuit; and (2) the Legislature’s majority vote to approve and adopt the contract was consistent with subject provisions of the Montana Constitution. View "Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the water court’s denial of Scott Ranch LLC’s petition for adjudication of existing water rights appurtenant to Indian allotment lands it acquired that were previously held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe. After that member died and the lands were converted to fee status, Scott Ranch filed its petition. In denying the petition, the water court ruled that the lands were part of the Tribal Water Right established by the Crow Water Rights Compact and did not require a separate adjudication. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Scott Ranch’s claims and erroneously proceeded to address the merits of the petition. View "Scott Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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Robert Crawford was pulled over by Flathead Tribal Police Officer Casey Couture on the Flathead Reservation. Crawford was allowed to leave but was then informed that he was in violation of his parole because he did not have permission to be traveling in that area. Crawford was arrested upon a warrant issued for parole violations and then charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs. A jury found him guilty. Thereafter, Crawford filed this action in state court against Couture, the Flathead Tribal Police Department, and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal Government alleging numerous claims due to inappropriate conduct by Couture. The district court dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the sovereign immunity of the Tribe. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. View "Crawford v. Couture" on Justia Law

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At dispute in this case was the Crow Water Compact - an agreement among the United States, the Crow Tribe, and the State - which recognizes a Tribal Water Right of the Crow Tribe and its members in a number of sources of water that abut or cross the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Here, a group of Crow tribal member Allottees - persons who hold interests in parcels of former Tribal land mostly created by the General Allotment Act - objected to the Compact in the Water Court, claiming that the United States breached its fiduciary duties to the Allottees by failing to protect their water rights in the Compact and failing to adequately represent them in Compact proceedings. The Water Court dismissed the Allottees’ objections. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Water Court (1) applied the proper legal standard of review in dismissing the Allottees’ objections; (2) did not exceed its jurisdiction by dismissing the Allottees’ action rather than staying consideration of the Compact pending resolution of the Allottees’ action in federal district court; and (3) did not err in determining that the Allottees have rights to a share of the Crow Tribal Water Right and that the United States adequately represented the Allottees during the Compact negotiations. View "In re Crow Water Compact" on Justia Law

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The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services filed a petition for emergency protective services for seven-year-old H.T., alleging drug use by Mother and domestic violence between Mother and her boyfriend. The petition stated that H.T. “may be an Indian Child for the purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).” The district court granted the motion for emergency protective services. The district court subsequently held a hearing that adjudicated H.T. a youth in need of care. The Department then filed a petition for permanent legal custody and termination of parental rights. The district court held a termination hearing and adopted and approved the termination petition. Mother appealed, asserting that the district court failed to comply with state and federal statutory requirements for terminating parental rights to an Indian child. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) Mother received fundamentally fair procedures prior to the termination of her parental rights; but (2) because the district court applied the wrong statutory standards in its final order, its judgment is vacated. Remanded for entry of a new order on the issue of whether Mother’s parental rights should be terminated. View "In re H.T." on Justia Law

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S.B.C. was a Naive American child whose biological parents were enrolled members of the Blackfeet Tribe (Tribe). When S.B.C. was approximately four months old he was removed from Mother’s care and placed with Foster Mother. The district court later terminated both Mother’s and Father’s parental rights and granted legal custody to Child Services with the right to consent to the adoption of S.B.C. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err by denying the Tribe’s motion to transfer jurisdiction to the Blackfeet Tribal Court; (2) did not abuse its discretion by terminating Father’s parental rights; and (3) did not abuse its discretion by terminating Mother’s parental rights. View "Matter of S.B.C." on Justia Law

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Thirteen-year-old M.S. was placed into emergency protective custody in 2011. After M.S. was adjudicated a youth in need of care, the Department of Public Health and Human Services filed a petition for termination of Father's rights. Because Father was an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe (Tribe), M.S. was eligible for enrollment with the Tribe and, under Indian Child Welfare Act, M.S. was an Indian child. After a hearing in 2013, the district court ordered Father’s parental rights terminated. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the termination proceedings complied with statutory requirements for proceedings involving an Indian child. View "In re M.S." on Justia Law

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J.S., born in 1998, was an “Indian child” under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In 2002, J.S. was adjudicated a youth in need of care, and temporary custody was granted to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (Department). In 2012, the Department filed a petition for legal guardianship. Ultimately, the district court granted guardianship over J.S. to J.S.’s foster family. Father appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the State’s failure to provide notice to Father and his tribe at the outset of these proceedings did not provide a basis to overturn the district court’s ultimate guardianship order; (2) 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) did not provide a basis to overturn the district court’s award of guardianship to the foster family based on the State’s alleged failure to make “active efforts” to provide services and promote the relationship between Father and J.S.; and (3) contrary to Father’s contention, 25 U.S.C. 1912(e) did not apply to this case and did not serve to invalidate the district court’s award of guardianship. View "In re J.S." on Justia Law

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Dorothy Gopher, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, died intestate in 2008. Dorothy was survived by seven children (the siblings), and her estate consisted only of a ceremonial tribal flag. One of the siblings, filed an application for informal probate in the district court. As proceedings commenced in district court, several siblings filed a petition before the Blackfeet tribal court to name two other siblings as personal representatives in their parents' estates. The two siblings then filed consecutive motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in district court. The district court continued its proceedings and denied the motions to dismiss. The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction and ordered the estate to transfer the flag to co-trustees of a constructive trust on the estate. Meanwhile, the Blackfeet tribal court declined to assert jurisdiction over the estate property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it assumed jurisdiction over the probate of the estate. View "In re Estate of Gopher" on Justia Law

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The district court terminated Mother's parental rights to her two daughters (collectively, Children). Mother appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department of Health and Human Services (Department) undertook sufficient active efforts to reunify Mother and Children as required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA); (2) the Department provided sufficient evidence that reunification of Children with Mother would cause serious physical or emotional damage to Children; (3) the district court correctly determined that Mother had stipulated to the terms of the treatment plan; and (4) all stipulations in ICWA involuntary termination proceedings need not be reduced to writing. View "In re D.A." on Justia Law