Federal appeals court rejects tribal land access lawsuit News
Federal appeals court rejects tribal land access lawsuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] rejected [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit by members of a California Native American tribe over land access on Tuesday. The court ruled that the federal Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) [text] does not give US courts jurisdiction in this circumstance. Members of the United Auburn Indian Community were excluded [AP report] from tribal lands by the tribe’s Council. The members argued that such exclusion amounted to detention under the Indian Civil Rights Act, but the Ninth Circuit rejected that argument in a 2-1 decision. The appeals court affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction and ruled the petitioners’ appeals moot. In their ruling the panel found that the exclusion of some of the tribe’s own members from tribal land, but not the entire reservation, did not constitute detention. Further, the withholding of tribal distributions did not create jurisdiction under the ICRA.

Tribal matters have been of increasing concern over the past year in federal courts. Last week the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has a federally established right to groundwater [JURIST report] in the Coachella Valley reservation in California. Earlier this month a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] against Native American tribes seeking to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In January the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] to determine whether the sovereign immunity of an Indian tribe bars individual-capacity damages actions tribal employees for torts committed within the scope of their employment. In October a federal judge ruled in favor [JURIST report] of Native American tribes claiming that Nevada’s voting procedure violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to have polling placed on certain Native American reservations. In September the Obama administration settled a lawsuit [JURIST report] for over $492 million accusing the government of mismanaging natural resources and other tribal assets.