indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Native American Bank - Native people investing in Native communities
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Tribal sovereignty must be respected, court rules
Friday, May 13, 2005


STATE RAID: Troopers pin tribal members on the ground during raid of the Narragansett Reservation on July 14, 2003.
The state of Rhode Island violated the Narragansett Tribe's sovereignty during a highly-publicized raid of the reservation nearly two years ago, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

State officials had no right to enter the reservation in an attempt to enforce state law, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in a unanimous decision. Instead of resorting to a violent raid of the tribe's smoke shop, the state could have pursued other legal and political means to resolve a dispute over the collection of cigarette taxes, a three-judge panel said.

"For these reasons, we hold that the state violated the tribe's sovereign rights when it enforced the criminal provisions of its cigarette tax laws by executing a search warrant against the tribal government's smoke shop, forcibly entering the shop and seizing the tribe's stock of unstamped cigarettes, and arresting tribal officials who were acting in their official capacity," Judge Juan R. Torruella wrote for the majority.

In spite the harsh language, the court said the state has a right to seek taxes from the sale of cigarettes to non-Indians. An examination of state law shows that it doesn't infringe the tribe's sovereignty, the judges noted in their 36-page opinion.

"We have determined that, since the legal incidence of Rhode Island's cigarette tax falls on the consumer, rather than the tribal distributor, the Narragansetts are obligated to comply with the State's cigarette tax laws as they pertain to cigarettes sold to non-Indian consumers," the court said. "Therefore, by selling unstamped cigarettes to non-Indian consumers, the smoke shop operators violated Rhode Island tax law, which is a criminal offense."

The mixed ruling hands victories to both the tribe and the state in their long-running battle over the extent of the tribe's sovereignty and the reach of the state's. Both sides claimed victory yesterday after the decision was issued.

"The state should have respected the status of the tribe, knowing that we're a federally recognized tribe and have a relationship with Congress," said Narragansett Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, one of several officials and members arrested during the July 14, 2003, in a statement.

On the other hand, state attorney general Patrick C. Lynch, who defended the raid on court, said the ruling failed to clear up the matter, pointing to language that supports some form of state authority on tribal lands. "I find it very difficult to reconcile this lack of clarity and, for that reason, I will seek further review of this case," he said in a statement.

There were, however, some key findings that could help New England tribes, whose sovereign rights have been in question in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine within the 1st Circuit. In nearby Connecticut, which falls under the 2nd Circuit, similar issues have arisen.

Along with the Narragansetts, the tribes are subject to special acts of Congress that settled their lands claims and contained nearly identical language granting state criminal and civil jurisdiction on the settled lands. But the court said the provision is not a "clear, express waiver" of sovereign immunity.

"The tribe, therefore, retains its sovereign immunity despite the grant of jurisdiction to the state," the court determined.

The court went further and said the language gives the state absolutely no powers over the tribe itself. "Congress did not expressly give the state jurisdiction over the Narragansett Tribe," wrote Torruella, noting that the tribe retains "concurrent jurisdiction" over its settlement lands.

Additionally, the court rejected an analysis used by a federal judge who had ruled against the Narragansetts in December 2003. U.S. District Judge William E. Smith said the state raid was justified because the smoke shop "affects non-members" and isn't "inherently governmental or political in nature."

But the 1st Circuit said this test was an "inappropriate" way to "determine whether the tribe's operation of the smoke shop should be included in the tribe's retained right of sovereignty." Smith had taken the language from a case involving two Maine tribes but the appeals court warned that the situation there involved acts of Congress that were "very different."

Finally, the court identified other remedies the state could pursue to collect taxes from the sale of tobacco products to non-Indians. The state and the tribe could enter into a compact like others found throughout Indian Country, go could go after non-Indians who distribute cigarettes to the tribe or seek civil -- but not criminal -- action against tribal leaders who are acting in their official capacities.

"The state's hands will not be completely tied while the tribe continues to operate its Smoke Shop in violation of the State's cigarette laws," Torruella wrote. "Although the operation of the smoke shop without complying with Rhode Island's cigarette tax laws is certainly not a sovereign right retained by the Narragansett Tribe, the tribe does have a right of sovereign immunity that should be respected the state."

It is possible that the ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by either or both sides in the case. No decision has been made by any party regarding further legal challenges.

Get the Ruling:
Narragansett Tribe v. Rhode Island (May 12, 2005)

More on the Raid:
Video | Text: Gov. Carcieri's July 14 Press Conference | Text: Gov. Carcieri's July 15 Statement | Text: Excerpts of Narragansett Chief Sachem July 14 Press Conference

Relevant Laws:
Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act (US Code)

Relevant Links:
Narragansett Tribe - http://www.narragansett-tribe.org
Smoke Shop Showdown - http://www.projo.com/extra/2003/smokeshop

Related Stories:
New trial sought in state police raid of reservation (04/14)
Police stand behind trooper in raid of reservation (03/31)
Jury awards damages in state raid of reservation (3/29)
Lawsuit over state raid of reservation goes to jury (3/25)
State troopers defend actions in reservation raid (3/24)
State troopers on trial over raid of reservation (3/22)
Narragansett Tribe marks one year after state raid (07/15)
Narragansett Tribe to mark anniversary of raid (7/13)
State's raid on tribal land sparks strong reactions (07/16)
R.I. raids Narragansett tribal smoke shop (7/15)
Narragansett Tribe wants to head to federal court (7/15)
Analysis: Carcieri 'paternalistic' on Indians (7/15)
Column: Tribal smokeshop raid something out of 1963 (7/15)
Narragansett chief arrested in 'violent' raid (7/14)
R.I. governor promises to help Narragansett Tribe (06/04)
R.I. tribe upset over reservation checkpoint bill (05/30)
R.I. bill sets up reservation checkpoints (5/28)
R.I. tribe delays opening of tobacco shop (5/23)

Copyright 2000-2005 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Businesses show support for LNI tournament (3/27)
Lakota Country Times: Oglala Sioux fighter climbing in the ranks (3/27)
Mark Trahant: Alaska Natives look 10,000 years into the future (3/27)
Ivan Star: The influences of boarding school and Vietnam War (3/27)
Gyasi Ross: Funerals become family reunions in Indian Country (3/27)
Tim Giago hands over the reins as publisher of Native Sun News (3/27)
House committee passes Native American Children's Safety Act (3/27)
Bill to benefit Miami Nation moves forward in House and Senate (3/27)
City extended contract to send treated sewage to sacred peaks (3/27)
Oneida Nation welcomes ruling backing land-into-trust request (3/27)
Lawmakers want BIA to delay new federal recognition reforms (3/27)
Another conviction from Chippewa Cree Tribe corruption probe (3/27)
Editorial: Shakopee Tribe contributes $5M for health initiative (3/27)
Opinion: Navajo Nation enacts 'sin tax' on unhealthy products (3/27)
Editorial: Opposition to Pamunkey Tribe recognition 'revolting' (3/27)
Dennis Jenkins: Hypocrisy for new tribal casinos in Connecticut (3/27)
Supreme Court asked to hear Kialegee Tribal Town gaming case (3/27)
Ho-Chunk Nation extends agreement for off-reservation casino (3/27)
Indiana lawmakers seek role in Pokagon Band gaming compact (3/27)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux leader not pleased with boycott (3/26)
Lakota Country Times: Lakota Nation Invitational stays in Rapid (3/26)
Native Sun News: Mayor of Rapid City addresses race relations (3/26)
Jane Daugherty: Tribal e-commerce continues to draw scrutiny (3/26)
Witness list for Senate Indian Affairs Committee's field hearing (3/26)
Richard Iron Cloud: Remove murderer's name from sacred peak (3/26)
Native Youth: Bring dental therapy providers to Indian Country (3/26)
Steven Newcomb: Tribal nations still under dominating process (3/26)
Law firm hosts tribes for session on marijuana in Indian Country (3/26)
Judge upholds BIA decision on Oneida Nation land-into-trust bid (3/26)
Appeals court rules against Crow Tribe in housing grant dispute (3/26)
Ho-Chunk Nation raises minimum wage to $2.75 above federal (3/26)
Mishewal Wappo Tribe to appeal decision in recognition lawsuit (3/26)
Racist emails of former Montana federal judge to be preserved (3/26)
Shingle Springs Band considered but rejected indoor gun range (3/26)
House panel backs bill to block Tohono O'odham Nation casino (3/26)
Quapaw Tribe did not include casino on land-into-trust request (3/26)
Chumash Tribe never got apology for diplomat's casino remark (3/26)
Governor won't sign casino compact with Fort Sill Apache Tribe (3/26)
Cherokee Nation approves $6.9M renovation project for casino (3/26)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux veteran training for Paralympics (3/25)
Alaska Native musher Chuck Schaeffer completes 2015 Iditarod (3/25)
LTBB News: Michigan tribes come together for historic meeting (3/25)
Lecture focuses on repatriation of tribal intellectual properties (3/25)
Board still working on delivering money for Cobell scholarships (3/25)
Sen. Barrasso to chair field hearing on drugs in Indian Country (3/25)
Bill for tribal marijuana compacts up for hearing in Washington (3/25)
Choctaw Nation chief hopes to travel to Ireland for monument (3/25)
HHS urged to do more to help tribes with foster care programs (3/25)
Eastern Cherokees work to teach language to new generations (3/25)
Another suggestion for Indian woman on $20 bill -- Sakakawea (3/25)
Man from Crow Tribe cites self-defense in fatal casino shooting (3/25)
Shawnee Tribe sees opposition to off-reservation gaming plan (3/25)
Navajo Nation signs Class III casino compact with New Mexico (3/25)
Quapaw Tribe insists a casino isn't focus of Arkansas land plan (3/25)
Suquamish Tribe reaches deal to allow highway work at casino (3/25)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.