The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has exercised sufficient governmental power to meet the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) [text], which would make their settlement lands subject to federal instead of state laws. Massachusetts argued [Boston Globe report] that 500 acres of land on Martha’s Vineyard belonging to the tribe were prohibited from engaging in gambling. A lower court ruled that the tribe was subject to state and local gambling bans because it did not exercise sufficient governmental power to be covered by the IGRA. The appellate decision overturns that lower court ruling, opening the door for the Aquinnah tribe to conduct limited gambling on Martha’s Vineyard.
Tribal matters have been of increasing concern over the past year in federal courts. In March 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 that 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.