A welcome sign on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Parker, Arizona. Photo: moominsean

Appeals court backs CRIT court in battle with non-Indians

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in a dispute involving the Colorado River Indian Tribes and non-Indians who leased land on the reservation.

In a unanimous per curiam decision, the court stated that tribal governments possess "inherent authority" to exclude non-Indians from Indian land. This authority allows tribes to regulate non-Indians for their activities on Indian land.

"We must therefore conclude that the CRIT’s right to exclude non-Indians from tribal land includes the power to regulate them unless Congress has said otherwise, or unless the Supreme Court has recognized that such power conflicts with federal interests promoting tribal self government," the decision stated.

This holding was notable because the 9th Circuit did not base it on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Montana v US. That decision states that tribes may exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians if a "consensual relationship" exists.

The 9th Circuit noted that "Montana does not apply to jurisdictional questions arising from the tribe’s authority to exclude non-Indians from tribal land [emphasis added]." Montana, the court said, only applies to "cases arising on non-Indian land [emphasis added]."

And since there are no "compelling" state interests at play, the 9th Circuit said it was clear that CRIT can exercise authority over non-Indians on Indian land.

"In this instance, where the non-Indian activity in question occurred on tribal land, the activity interfered directly with the tribe’s inherent powers to exclude and manage its own lands, and there are no competing state interests at play, the tribe’s status as landowner is enough to support regulatory jurisdiction without considering Montana," the decision stated.

Finally, the 9th Circuit concluded that the tribe exercised "personal jurisdiction" over Bob Johnson, the non-Indian man who managed the Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area.

"Johnson lived on tribal land, which on its own serves as a basis for personal jurisdiction," the decision stated. "Additionally, he was served with tribal process at the Water Wheel location on tribal land, and that service within the tribal court’s territorial jurisdiction is also sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction

The late attorney Tim Vollman represented the CRIT judges who ruled that the tribe could exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians.

9th Circuit Decision:
Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area v. LaRance (June 10, 2011)

District Court Decision:
Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area v. LaRance (September 23, 2009)

Related Stories:
Colorado River Indian Tribes evict non-Indian at recreation area (9/14)
County won't intervene in Colorado River Indian Tribes lease flap (7/28)
Non-Indians continue to fight Colorado River Indian Tribes on rent (7/27)
Judge backs CRIT authority over non-Indians (9/30)

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