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Supreme Court Roundup: Indian law cases rejected
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court took action on a number of Indian law and Indian-law related cases on Monday. Here's an update on the developments in five cases that were appealed to the high court.

Indian Civil Rights Act
Four Oneida Nation families face eviction from their reservation in upstate New York now that the high court has refused to get involved in an internal tribal dispute. The family members -- including Maisie Shenandoah, the elderly aunt of Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter -- are fighting the tribe's attempt to demolish homes deemed unfit for living.

Shenandoah and her relatives claim they are being targeted because they have spoken out against Halbritter. But the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, while sympathetic to the families, ruled in April 2004 that it didn't have jurisdiction under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 to consider the dispute.

Court Decisions:
2nd Circuit(April 2, 2004) | Federal Court (August 8, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Oneidas for Democracy -
Oneida Nation -

Related Stories:
Oneida Nation families face eviction from homes (4/6)

Sacred Sites
A non-Indian man who wants to develop land where sacred Hopi shrines are located will not be able to challenge an Arizona state policy aimed at protecting sacred sites now that the high court has rejected his appeal. Dale McKinnon claimed his constitutional rights were being violated by the state's refusal to issue him a "commercial source number" that would allow him to sell mined materials to the state.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that formerly employed Interior Secretary Gale Norton, represented McKinnon in the case, one of a series of similar lawsuits that have been brought to the courts. In rejecting McKinnno, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Native sites "are entitled to the same protection as the many Judeo-Christian religious sites" in a September 2004 ruling.

Court Decision:
Cholla Ready-Mix v. Mendez (September 1, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Mountain States Legal Foundation -
Sacred Land Film Project -

Related Stories:
Appeals court says sacred sites worthy of protection (09/07)

Native Voting Rights
A Montana county whose population is 45 percent Native will have to maintain a voting system that resulted in the election of the first Native American commissioner now that its case was rejected by the high court.

Blaine County was found to have violated the voting rights of Native Americans by preventing residents of the Fort Belknap Reservation from electing a candidate of their choice. The county -- also represented by Mountain States -- eliminated its "at-large" system in response to the litigation but continued to fight the case, claiming the federal government had no right to dictate changes at the local level.

The county had appealed the case over the objections of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes on the reservation. Dolores Plumage, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who lives on the reservation and was elected to the commission in 2002, voted against taking the case to the Supreme Court.

Court Decision:
US v. Blaine County (April 7, 2004)

Related Stories:
County takes Native voting case to Supreme Court (03/29)
Montana tribe blasts county for voting rights appeal (10/27)

Indian Trust
The battle over the federal government's trust obligations isn't likely to end any time soon. But a potential negative development was avoided yesterday with the high court's rejection of a case involving two Wyoming tribes.

The Bush administration launched a broad attack in an attempt to limit the nature of the accounting owed to tribes and individual Indians. The challenge could have affected dozens of tribal trust cases and the Cobell v. Norton case.

Court Decision:
Eastern Shoshone Tribe/Northern Arapaho Tribe v. US (April 7, 2004)

Related Stories:
High court won't take appeal of tribal trust case (4/19)

Religious Freedom
In the only Indian-law related case accepted yesterday, the high court will determine whether a religious group in New Mexico can use a hallucinogenic tea that considered an illegal drug by federal authorities. The case has drawn attention because the group has compared itself to the Native American Church, whose members are allowed to use peyote, a hallucinogenic drug.

NAC practitioners are worried that the case could lead to non-Indian abuse of their religious sacrament. A court in Utah has held that peyote use cannot be restricted to members of federally recognized tribes.

Court Decisions:
10th Circuit En Banc (November 12, 2004) | 10th Circuit Panel (September 4, 2003) | Federal Court (September 12, 2002)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court takes drug case tied to peyote use (4/19)

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