indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Dynamic Homes
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
'Double whammy' dealt to siblings seeking enrollment
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The federal government can't force tribes to make decisions on enrollment matters even if the process seems unfair, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.

In a short opinion, a three-judge panel of the court expressed some sympathy with four siblings who are trying to join the Table Mountain Rancheria of California. Kathy Lynnette, Larry Paul, Jerry Lee and Chad Elliot Lewis say the tribe has failed to act on their enrollment application even through their father is a member and their grandparents were on the base roll.

Tired of waiting for a response, the Lewises sued the government in hopes of forcing the tribe into action. But the court said the siblings can't attempt an "end run" around the tribe's sovereign right to decide its own membership policies.

"Although their claim to membership appears to be a strong one, as their father is a recognized member of the tribe, their claim cannot survive the double jurisdictional whammy of sovereign immunity and lack of federal court jurisdiction to intervene in tribal membership disputes," Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote in the eight-page decision.

The Lewis siblings asked for membership in 2000, the same year their father was accepted in the tribe. Membership would entitle them to share in revenues from the successful Table Mountain Casino in Fresno County. With fewer than 100 members, each person receives an estimated $350,000 a year from gaming revenues.

According to the decision, the only way to gain membership is through the tribal council or the general council. But the Lewises say tribal officials and existing tribal members don't want to see other people enrolled. Some people have actually been disenrolled, according to an August 2000 article in Indian Country Today.

So rather than sue the tribe, the siblings sued the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Indian Gaming Commission. They wanted the BIA to force the tribe into opening the rolls and to stop the flow of federal funds and the distribution of casino revenues until that happens.

The court, however, said it can't ignore the fact that the tribe was left out of the lawsuit and has immunity from lawsuits. Further, Supreme Court precedent dictates that federal courts lack jurisdiction to resolve "purely intramural matters such as conditions of tribal membership," the 9th Circuit panel said.

"These doctrines of tribal sovereign immunity were developed decades ago, before the gaming boom created a new and economically valuable premium on tribal membership," Schroeder wrote.

The Lewises attempted to get around the sovereignty question by arguing that the tribe waived its immunity when it sued to regain federal recognition. But the 9th Circuit said that was a limited waiver that doesn't apply "in perpetuity for the resolution of all claims to tribal membership."

The siblings also attempted to get around the question by stating they have no way, within the tribe, to resolve their dispute. But the 9th Circuit said it has to respect tribal ways of doing business.

"We therefore must recognize the tribal council and the general council as competent lawapplying bodies in this case," the court said.

A third attempt to go through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act also failed but the court ended its decision with a sober statement about the apparent lack of fairness in the dispute, suggesting that another power might need to address it.

"We agree with the district courtís conclusion that this case is deeply troubling on the level of fundamental substantive justice," the judges said. "Nevertheless, we are not in a position to modify well-settled doctrines of tribal sovereign immunity. This is a matter in the hands of a higher authority than our court."

The Table Mountain Rancheria is just one of several enrollment disputes in California. According to some tribal activists, upwards of 2,000 California Indians face disenrollment from their tribes or have already been removed.

Two lawsuits have been filed by former members of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, a wealthy casino-owning tribe. One case was rejected on the grounds that Public Law 280, which grants civil and criminal jurisdiction on Indian lands to the state, doesn't authorize an enrollment lawsuit that "goes to the heart of tribal sovereignty," a state appeals court ruled on August 9 of this year. The other case, also based on Public Law 280, is pending in the state courts.

Other cases, involving former members of the Redding Rancheria and the Table Mountain Rancheria, have been unsuccessful.

Get the Decision:
Lewis v. Norton (September 13, 2005)

Relevant Links:
Pechanga Tribal Disenrollment - http://www.pechanga.info
Bureau-of-Indian-Affairs.com, Disenrollment site - http://www.bureau-of-indian-affairs.com

Related Stories:
Pechanga Band says money not behind enrollment (08/10)
Disenrollment suit dismissed in California (8/9)
Ousted Pechangas plan appeal of enrollment lawsuit (8/9)
Disenrolled Pechangas seek $38M in damages (08/04)
Pechanga Band enrollment dispute closely watched (07/11)
Court hears Pechanga Band enrollment dispute (7/7)
McKosato: Greed behind ouster of tribal members (05/23)
Opinion: Gaming has turned tribes on other tribes (5/20)
Ousted Redding Rancheria members head to forum (5/19)
Forum calls attention to tribal disenrollments (5/18)
Family fights disenrollment from Sauk-Suiattle Tribe (5/18)
California AIM blames greed for mass disenrollments (5/16)
Editorial: Disenrollment becoming too common (04/01)
Ousted Pechangas file another lawsuit against tribe (03/28)
California tribe changes status of some members (3/28)
Pechanga Band avoids dedication of city park (03/09)
Woman ejected from Pechanga Band in despair (01/27)
County investigates shooting on Pechanga land (01/14)
State judge won't dismiss lawsuit over tribal enrollment (07/27)
Pechanga Band votes to retain Macarro as chairman (07/19)
Battle for top Pechanga post heats up before vote (7/16)
Disenrolled tribal members call for more oversight (07/15)
Ousted tribal members appeal to Pechanga council (07/02)
Pechanga chairman faces election challenge (07/02)
Judge weighs ruling in Pechanga disenrollment (04/20)
2,000 California Indians face disenrollment (04/14)
Pechanga descendants protest against enrollment policy (04/06)
Opinion: Greed, spite, history behind disenrollment (4/5)
Opinion: Calif. tribes disenrolling more people (4/1)
Pechanga tribal committee disenrolls 130 people (03/22)
Calif. judge waits on Pechanga enrollment dispute (02/18)
Calif. judge delays Pechanga Tribe's disenrollment (02/05)
Judge won't protect 130 from disenrollment (2/3)
Case tests Pechanga Tribe's right to disenroll 130 (02/02)
Adopted man protests exclusion Pechanga Tribe (01/15)
Pechanga tribe threatens to cut off newspaper (03/14)
Pechanga disenrollment campaign to continue (02/25)
Pechanga chairman surprised by his 'racist' statement (2/24)

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

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Eyapaha Today: Oneida singer follows in mother's footsteps (10/22)
Native Sun News: Candidate seeks investigation into program (10/22)
Ivan Star Comes Out: Lakota people disrespect our language (10/22)
Cedric Sunray: Standing together to fight tribal disenrollment (10/22)
SCIA to hold listening session at NCAI on Indian education bill (10/22)
FNDI urges passage for Indian Teacher Loan Forgiveness Act (10/22)
Chumash Tribe praises BIA movement on land-into-trust bid (10/22)
Steven Newcomb: The role of Latin in empire and colonization (10/22)
Christopher Chavis: Navajo court got it wrong in fluency case (10/22)
Navajo Nation presidential hopeful to be removed from ballot (10/22)
Aging BIA school on Navajo Nation awaits replacement funds (10/22)
Review: NMAI treaties exhibit underscores misunderstandings (10/22)
Alaska Native elders and youth share issues at annual meeting (10/22)
Shinnecock Nation allows felons to hold office in certain cases (10/22)
2nd Circuit hears appeal from former chairman of Pequot Tribe (10/22)
Rep. Don Young criticized for comments to high school students (10/22)
Candidates differ on Spokane Tribe's off-reservation casino bid (10/22)
Poarch Creeks to add hotel to casino with $65M expansion plan (10/22)
Salt River Tribe concerned about Tohono O'odham Nation casino (10/22)
North Fork Rancheria blames rival tribes for holding up compact (10/22)
Ballot proposal authorizes more Class III games in South Dakota (10/22)
Blog: Predictions for gaming with Hillary Clinton in White House (10/22)
Native Sun News: Activists take annual swim to Alcatraz Island (10/21)
Mark Trahant: Alaska Natives ready for conference and election (10/21)
BIA announces consultations for secretarial election regulation (10/21)
Chelsey Luger & Gyasi Ross: From slow suicide to slow healing (10/21)
Bill John Baker: Addressing breast cancer in our communities (10/21)
ICT interview with Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn of BIA (10/21)
Navajo Nation court still mulling decision in presidential case (10/21)
Column: Billy Mills still inspires 50 years after Olympic victory (10/21)
Editorial: Winnebago Tribe's business makes a big contribution (10/21)
Lincoln Indian Center adopts permanent alcohol ban after party (10/21)
Suquamish Tribe shares fish from hatchery at annual giveaway (10/21)
Editorial: Bad move by Northern Arapaho Tribe on joint council (10/21)
Wisconsin court to hear appeal over Oneida Nation waste plant (10/21)
Coeur d'Alene Tribe reaches out to family that lost home to fire (10/21)
Closure of Chukchansi Tribe's casino affects reservation water (10/21)
Eastern Shawnee Tribe considers casino on ancestral Ohio site (10/21)
Town meeting for Lac Vieux Desert Band off-reservation casino (10/21)
North Fork Rancheria won't give up off-reservation casino plan (10/21)
Tohono O'odham Nation was looking for off-reservation casino (10/21)
Poarch Creeks won't confirm or deny talks for gaming compact (10/21)
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.