Business | Law

8th Circuit sides with Omaha Tribe in reservation boundary case

A view of the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. Photo from Omaha Tribe

The reservation of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska has not been diminished, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a unanimous opinion, the court said Congress did not change the boundaries of the reservation when it opened part of the tribe's land base to non-Indian settlers in 1882. The ruling was only five pages but it upheld the findings of a federal judge who "thoroughly, thoughtfully, and accurately" examined the law and other evidence at issue in the dispute.

"The court carefully reviewed the relevant legislative history, contemporary historical context, subsequent congressional and administrative references to the reservation, and demographic trends, and did so in such a fashion that any additional analysis would only be unnecessary surplus," Judge Clarence Arlen Beam wrote, referring to the lower court's decision.

Ever mindful to 'resolve any ambiguities in favor of the Indians,' there is nothing in this case to overcome the 'presumption in favor of the continued existence' of the Omaha Indian Reservation," Beam continued.

Schrieb's Bar on Main Street in Pender. Image from Google Maps

The decision means the village of Pender remains part of the reservation as the tribe has always contended. More significantly, it means a group of non-Indian businesses must comply with the tribe's liquor laws and regulations, including a 10 percent tax on sales.

The non-Indian plaintiffs, however, could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter. A reservation diminishment case hasn't been heard by the justices since South Dakota v. Yankton Sioux Tribe, a 1998 decision cited by the 8th Circuit.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the 8th Circuit appeal and from the lower court case. Oral arguments from the October 7 hearing can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

8th Circuit Decision:
Smith v. Parker (December 19, 2014)

Related Stories:
Omaha Tribe links incident to dispute over reservation borders (10/08)
Judge backs Omaha Tribe in lawsuit over taxes on non-Indians (02/18)
NCAI backs Omaha Tribe in suit over alcohol tax on businesses (7/11)
Federal judge set to rule on Omaha Tribe's liquor taxation case (02/20)
Omaha Tribe heading back in court in alcohol taxation dispute (2/19)

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