State's raid on tribal land sparks strong reactions
WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2003
Update 4 p.m. EST: U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith met with lawyers for both sides this morning. He has set another hearing for Monday on the case. The state court complaint will not continue for now -- the federal court will hear the case.
STATE RAID: Troopers pin a tribal member on the ground. Click for More.
WJAR VIDEO: State troopers raid tribal smoke shop in Rhode Island. Click for More.
A high-profile battle over a Rhode Island tribe's tax-free cigarette shop heads to court today as Indian leaders from across the nation reacted critically to the state's raid of the Narragansett Reservation.
U.S. District Judge William E. Smith will hear arguments on a temporary restraining order sought by the Narragansett Tribe. The lawsuit claims the state lacks jurisdiction over the tribe and that Congress has not subjected the tribe to state tax laws.
But in another courtroom, the state will be arguing the exact opposite. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) and state attorney general Patrick Lynch have filed suit in county court, seeking to stop the tribe from selling tobacco products without collecting and remitting state taxes.
The sparring comes as Indian Country weighed in with its response to Monday's violent raid of the Narragansett's smoke shop. Tribal leaders who watched the video, which has been broadcast nationally, and learned of the incident said it brought back an era of tribal-state relations that many thought was long gone.
"It is inexcusable that a tribal leader would be target of violence by Rhode Island law enforcement officers," said Brenda Soulliere, chairwoman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which represents dozens of tribes in California.
For Soulliere, the treatment of a tribe on the other side of the country was very personal -- she was vice-chair of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians when its card club was raided by state officials in 1981. Like the Narragansett case, the state claimed a right to impose its laws on Indian land, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1987, disagreed and upheld the tribe's rights.
Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, which represents more than 200 tribes, also took issue with the state's handling of the raid. Although he said it was common for tribes and states to disagree, he emphasized cooperation, not conflict, in seeking to resolve disputes over jurisdiction.
"Imagine if federal marshals roughed up and arrested your governor and state leaders because the federal government disagreed with a decision made by your state government?" he said. "It is unfathomable."
NCAI recently participated in a Supreme Court case in which county officials in California used bolt-cutters to seize records belonging to the Bishop Paiute Shoshone Tribe. An amicus brief highlighted agreements tribes and states have entered into in order to prevent confrontations like the one witnessed in Rhode Island.
In nearby Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said it supported the Narragansetts. "We are astonished at the level of intervention the state of Rhode Island has chosen in this matter, and we believe the level of force was inappropriate and unnecessary," a statement read.
The sentiments reflect a key issue that will be discussed in today's dual court hearings: the extent of the state's jurisdiction over activities on tribal land. The state's brief argues that the tribe's 1978 land claim settlement act clearly subjects the tribe to state criminal and civil law.
A similar debate occurred in the recent Inyo County v. Bishop Paiute Shoshone Tribe
but no clear answer was given by the nation's high court. The tribes who took part in the case argued that while a state such as California might have jurisdiction over the actions of individual Indians, it cannot impose on a tribal sovereign, a view supported by the Bush administration in a Department of Justice brief.
In the federal 1st Circuit, which includes the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, court rulings in general have not been favorable to Indian interests. With the exception of a recent land-into-trust case involving the Mashantucket Tribe, the courts have held that various settlement acts limit the sovereign rights of tribes.
A judge in Massachusetts, however, somewhat broke with the mold when he ruled that the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe can't be sued to comply with local zoning laws. The tribe's settlement agreement, like the Narragansett one, says the state has criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal lands, but the judge said the law did not waive the tribe's sovereign immunity.
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
Rhode Island's Court Filings: Motion for Temporary Restraining Order
| Washington County Superior Court Complaint
Relevant Laws:Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act
Narragansett Tribe - http://www.narragansett-tribe.org
Rhode Island Governor - http://www.governor.state.ri.us
Rhode Island Attorney General - http://www.riag.state.ri.us
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(5/28) R.I. tribe delays opening of tobacco shop