Tribes urged to bring states on board for Supreme Court case

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Indianz.Com

A critical U.S. Supreme Court case presents an opportunity for states to join forces with Indian Country, tribal leaders were told on Monday.

The justices will hear Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians on December 7. The outcome will determine whether Dollar General, a publicly-traded company with $17.5 billion in revenues can avoid the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

While state interests aren't directly implicated in the dispute, the case has already drawn one troublesome brief. The attorneys general from Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Michigan, Arizona and Alabama -- six states where a large number of tribes are based -- are urging the high court to rule against the Mississippi Band even though Dollar General voluntarily agreed to operate a store on trust land on the reservation.

The filing has already drawn a sharp rebuke from Native women advocates in Oklahoma and at least one Indian leader from Arizona. If Dollar General gets its way, they point out that the family of a young minor tribal member who was allegedly abused at the store won't get their day in court.

Tribal leaders hear an update from the Tribal Supreme Court Project at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

To counteract the development, the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund are urging tribes to get their own states involved. The goal is to get them to join a different brief being submitted by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood that supports tribal jurisdiction.

“This is an extremely important case for tribal sovereignty," NCAI general counsel John Dossett said at the opening of the organization's annual meeting in San Diego, California, on Monday.

Dossett, though, said tribes must move quickly. Hood's brief, which has been circulating among the state attorneys general community, is due to be submitted by Thursday.

"Let them know that tribes support joining with the state of Mississippi in support of tribal sovereignty," Dossett said.

Dollar General opened its 11,000th store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 2012. Photo from Facebook

Through their joint Supreme Court Project, NCAI and NARF were busy on Monday collecting more signatures for their own brief that will be submitted by Thursday. Additional briefs in support of the Mississippi Band are expected from tribes in Oklahoma, a coalition of tribal courts, the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, the Department of Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of scholars.

The high level of activity speaks to one of the last major Indian law cases that went before the Supreme Court. In 2013, NCAI and NARF lined up an "A-team" of pro-tribal briefs in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, an Indian Child Welfare Act dispute.

The strong support, however, did not translate to a win for Indian Country. The Dollar General case is now raising similar fears because the court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, has not been particularly receptive to tribal interests.

"Since 2006, under John Roberts, there's been 11 Indian cases decided by that court and we have won only two of those cases," NARF's executive director John Echohawk told tribal leaders.

In addition to Dollar General, the Supreme Court has accepted Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. US. Oral arguments will take place December 1 in a dispute that will determine how far back the Indian Health Service must go to pay the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin for contract support costs in self-determination contracts.

A third case, Nebraska v. Parker, was also accepted by the court. The outcome will determine the whether the boundaries of the reservation of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska have been diminished. Oral arguments haven't been scheduled.

"This crisis continues," Echohawk said of the court's upcoming docket.

5th Circuit Decision:
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)

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