From the Director's Desk
This past year marks the 27th year that the Native American Rights Fund continued its commitment to work directly with Native American tribes and villages, groups and individuals on cases of major significance to Indian country. NARF has fought for the rights of Native people in every conceivable forum - federal, state and tribal courts, the halls of Congress, state legislatures, corporate meeting rooms, city halls and tribal council chambers.
As we embark on 1998, we embrace a renewed hope that justice will prevail in our efforts on behalf of Indian people nationwide. However, we recognize that this hope must be tempered with vigilance. Just last year, one of the most critical Indian issues was the Congressional legislative effort to diminish tribal sovereignty. Although the proposed bills were defeated, NARF, tribes and Indian organizations everywhere are preparing for yet a similar battle this year.
So as we look back at 1997 and you read through this issue, please remember that we greatly appreciate your financial contributions, and are honored and proud to have your support. I also want to take this opportunity to commend and acknowledge the dedicated efforts of the NARF staff and board of directors. Together we have all made great strides in 1997 on behalf of Indian people everywhere.
All the best in the new year.
John E. Echohawk (Pawnee) Executive Director
A Look Back at 1997
NARF's 15 attorney staff in Boulder, Anchorage and Washington, DC handles about 50 major cases at any given time. Many of these cases take several years to resolve. During the course of a year NARF also receives scores of requests for legal assistance. The staff and budget cannot pursue them all, so choices must be made on the basis of widespread benefit. Unfortunately, there are always important and worthy cases that NARF simply cannot pursue.
As we look at 1997 in review, it is tempting to only celebrate the positive milestones accomplished during the year, but we all know too well the ongoing political realities confronting Indian Country. While we've fought long and hard for the achievements realized, we still find ourselves addressing many of the basic issues that were in the forefront when NARF first started in 1970.
We know that within the legislative and judicial systems of this nation, there are only a handful of people having even a limited knowledge of Indian law, Indian culture, and the meaning of tribal sovereignty. Yet, those leaders are in charge of determining federal Indian policy. To compound the dilemma, policy often vacillates with every new swing of the political pendulum, leaving each of our generations to pick up the pieces and repeatedly start the process all over again.
So what will we do in 1998 and beyond? The answer is clear. We must continue to do what we are doing now and have done in the past - focus our efforts on safeguarding the legal and sovereign rights of tribes and Indian people nationwide.
The Preservation of Tribal Existence
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in State of Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie on December 10, 1997. The Supreme Court's decision is expected by July.
At issue is whether the Tribe possesses the same broad powers as Indian tribes on reservations in the lower-48 states. The case arises out of the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government's attempt to impose a tax on a state contractor building a school in Venetie. The State of Alaska challenged the tax and in November 1996, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision upholding Venetie's Indian Country status. "Indian Country" refers to the geographical territory over which an Indian tribe exercises territorial governing powers. These powers include the authority to tax, zone and condemn real property; regulate land use; manage fish and game; exercise civil and criminal misdemeanor jurisdiction over tribal members; and under certain circumstances, exercise civil jurisdiction over non-tribal members.
In response to this ruling, the State of Alaska mounted an unprecedented defense in 1997 against the 350 member Tribe. The state legislature appropriated $1 million to cover legal expenses and the case was petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case also caught the attention of attorneys general in the lower-48 resulting in twenty-five states submitting a brief in support of Alaska's petition which was granted last June.
In a related case, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company v. Native Village of Kluti Kaah, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that a federal right-of-way which passes through land adjacent to the Native Village of Kluti Kaah (a.k.a. Copper Center) is not Indian Country. The Court concludes that when Congress authorized the establishment of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline corridor, it implicitly intended to exclude corridor lands from having Indian Country status. As a result, the Court ruled that the Kluti Kaah Tribe cannot tax the pipeline. Although this ruling is adverse, it will only apply to lands within the pipeline right-of-way, thus affecting only the four villages whose lands are bisected by the pipeline. The lands of these villages which lie outside the corridor will remain eligible for Indian Country status, assuming the Supreme Court does not rule in the Venetie case that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 extinguished Indian Country in Alaska.
In the first Supreme Court case on the merits of tribal court civil jurisdiction over non-Indians since 1959, and the first time ever that the Court has reviewed a tribal court's determination of its own jurisdiction, NARF represented the Tribal Court and Tribal judge of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. A-1 Contractors v. Strate was a challenge to the Tribal Court's jurisdiction under federal law to decide a personal injury case occurring between two non-Indians on a state highway on the reservation. On April 28, 1997, the Supreme Court ruled against tribal jurisdiction stating that non-Indian conduct on the state highway is generally not subject to tribal jurisdiction. The Court in its ruling, however, was careful to protect tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian conduct on Indian land.
The Preservation of Tribal Natural Resources
On March 17, 1997, the United States Supreme Court denied the request to hear Mustang Production Company v. Harrison. The rejection means that the August 23, 1996 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit stands -- thus affirming the right of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma to tax oil and gas production on allotments. The allotments, 160 acre land parcels held in trust by the federal government for the 10,000 tribal members, are scattered throughout nine counties in western Oklahoma. The allotments are virtually all that remains of the Cheyenne and Arapaho's 4.5 million-acre reservation that the federal government took in 1890.
The Tribes had already won their case in tribal court and in the lower federal courts. The oil companies then looked to the U.S. Supreme Court, but were turned down. The oil companies have paid about $5 million in taxes for their activities on allotments to the Tribes, and will continue to pay taxes in the future. Under tribal law, tax revenues are used for roads, schools, law enforcement, and health care.
NARF has represented the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in Alabama-Coushatta v. United States since 1983. In July 1996 the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that the United States is liable to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe for trespass damages to 3.4 million acres of ancestral land illegally occupied by settlers between 1845 and 1954. This land includes all or part of 12 southeast Texas counties and has been a center for oil, gas and timber production. To determine the amount of damages owed the Tribe, NARF is conducting extensive legal research on rental values and profits from oil, gas, and timber produced over the years. NARF will continue to represent the Tribe in either negotiating a settlement or proceeding to a trial on damages.
The Promotion of Human Rights
NARF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association and the National Indian Youth Council in support of a petition to the U.S. Trademark Board to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark on the ground that it is racially disparaging in violation of federal law.
NARF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians in support of Bear Lodge Multiple Use Association v. Babbit. The case addresses a management plan that was implemented by the National Park Service that asked climbers to voluntarily refrain from climbing Devil's Tower ("Mato Tipi") during the month of June so not to intrude on Native ceremonies. The mountain located in a Wyoming national park is a sacred site for several Indian tribes. The Tribes contend that the Park Service's refusal to issue commercial licenses in June to protect Native religious practices unconstitutionally violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The federal district court in Wyoming is currently considering the request by the climbers for a permanent injunction against the Park Service plan.
The Accountability of Governments
On February 4, 1997, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia certified the class action lawsuit NARF filed on behalf of over 500,000 present and past Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders. Accordingly, NARF now represents all past and present individual Indian trust beneficiaries.
The lawsuit, filed by NARF in June 1996, charges that the federal government breached its legally-mandated duty to carefully manage trust funds belonging to individual Indians, and consistently refused to fix an accounting system that the federal government itself has repeatedly admitted is fundamentally flawed and is completely ineffective in accounting for these monies. The funds in these accounts are neither handouts nor government appropriated money, but rather money generated from business leases of the allotted lands owned by individual Indians.
The IIM litigation has three overall goals. 1) To complete an accurate and reliable calculation of the moneys due individual Indian trust beneficiaries to make them whole; 2) To properly restate the trust fund accounts in conformity with that calculation; and 3) To require the federal government, particularly the Department of Interior, to create an accounting system that is reliable and accurate so that they can fulfill their trust duties in the future.
The case has been largely successful thus far. The United States has turned over large amounts of documentation and other data relevant to these trust funds and its breaches of trust. And NARF attorneys are working to acquire documents necessary to determine how much money should actually be in the IIM trust fund accounts. NARF has also requested an August trial date to try the issues regarding fixing the present asset management system so that losses do not continue to occur.
The Eagle Feather
The Native American Rights Fund would like to honor the late Rob Franklin - dedicated linguist, anthropologist, teacher, chair of the Anthropology Department at California State University - Dominguez Hills, and longtime consultant for NARF. He and his wife Pamela Bunte were responsible for much of the historical documentation that enabled the San Juan Southern Paiute tribe to gain federal recognition in 1989. Recently, Franklin was conduction similar research on behalf of the Little Shell Chippewa of Montana, who are under active consideration for federal recognition.
Born January 26, 1952 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Franklin received his PhD from Indiana University with his dissertation titled "The Role of Structure, Agency and Communication in the Federal Policy Toward the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe." A respected scholar and researcher, Franklin and his wife published The Paiute and From the Sands to the Mountain: Change and Persistence in a Southern Paiute Community. They also edited and annotated 209 Southern Paiute song texts that were originally collected in 1910.
Franklin worked with great love and tireless devotion on behalf of tribal rights. The Native American Rights Fund is honored to have been a part of his life.
The Native American Rights Fund held its 2nd annual "Benefit Cigar Dinner & Silent Auction" on October 19, 1997 at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, California.
NARF staff attorney Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee) opened the evening with a blessing and Pawnee prayer song followed by remarks by founding NARF board member David Risling (Hoopa). Over 100 guests enjoyed a traditional Indian dinner featuring grilled buffalo steaks, wild rice from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota and roasted acorn squash. The evening program also included a poetry reading by actor/activist/musician John Trudell (Santee) and performances by actor/musician Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Dakota) and comedian Charlie Hill (Oneida). Actor/poet Max Gail was Master of Ceremonies.
The silent and live auctions were a great success featuring American Indian art by such artists as Andrew Rodriguez (Laguna Pueblo) and Nola Campbell (Catawba), as well as signed television scripts, tickets to sports & cultural events, books, music and services.
NARF would like to thank the following event sponsors for their valuable support:
We would also like to express our appreciation to the following NARF donors and friends for their assistance in coordinating the dinner and donating and acquiring silent and live auction items from our sponsors.
Peta Uha Council* Launches
As a NARF member you know that the Native American Rights Fund is the premiere non-profit legal organization devoted to defending and promoting the legal rights of Indian people nationwide. Since its inception in 1970, NARF has assisted nearly 200 tribes. However, the challenge remains. Native Americans continue to face major hurdles that affect their self-determination, religious freedom, and diminishing natural resources -- issues that will impact generations to come.
Over the past several years NARF's annual budget has grown to nearly $7 million - a moderate budget given the far-reaching impact of our work. However, a good portion of these funds (approximately 24%) comes from the federal agencies of the Administration for Native Americans and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that are continually on the chopping block for major cuts or outright elimination. To further compound the problem, the costs of litigation and representation continue to escalate.
It is for these reasons, that I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you, our NARF members, to join our "Double Your Gift" campaign Co-Chairs -- Peta Uha Council and National Support Committee members Andy & Verna Teller of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico and John Heller & Emily Davis of Santa Fe, New Mexico - by doubling your gift to NARF this year.
The "Double Your Gift" campaign is designed specifically to meet not only the immediate needs of the Native American Rights Fund, but also the long-term financial needs. By renewing your membership, you will continue to provide valuable support to NARF's current efforts. Then, once you make a second gift to match the first one, we will apply it directly to NARF's 21st Century Endowment - a permanent fund established in 1993 with a two million-dollar challenge grant from the Ford Foundation.
We hope you will join Verna, Andy, John and Emily by participating in the "Double Your Gift" campaign. You can do even more for American Indian tribes today and for years to come. Pila Miya.
To find out more about the campaign, Peta Uha Council or the 21st Century Endowment, please call Don Ragona at 800/447-0784.
*The Peta Uha Council - A program designed to recognize NARF members who contribute $500 (Silver Feather Society) or $1000 (Gold Feather Society) annually. "Peta Uha" is the Lakota word for "firekeeper" -- the honored tribal member who made a solemn commitment to keep the sacred flame burning.