Law | Opinion | Federal Recognition

Charles Kader: Courts close their doors to unrecognized groups

A group calling itself the Notoweega Nation operated a business that was offering illegal games, according to the state of Ohio. Photo: The Red Door Casino

Are unrecognized groups wrongly being denied a chance to pursue their claims in the federal court system? Charles Kader, citizen of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, looks at some recent legal developments, including one affecting a group in Ohio calling itself the Notoweega Nation:
Historically, when Native American tribes entered into treaties with the United States, there were no lawyers to assist the communal interests in negotiating the greatest good. Yet today, a recent legal ruling discourages non-lawyers from representing non-federally recognized tribal groups, while not addressing such pro se appearances on behalf of federally recognized tribes. Does this spell the end of federal recognition for tribal groups unable to pay for legal counsel to advance their political aspirations? Is this action another form of divide and conquer?

The ruling, by a federal magistrate in Robinson v. Jewell (E.D. Cal), appears to be modeled on a previous decision from the Southern District of Ohio, according to an individual there affected by that ruling. Marshall Lucas, of Logan, Ohio, goes by the name of Dancing Elk. As the Chief of the unrecognized historical Notoweega Nation, Dancing Elk has reviewed the latest ruling and sees little difference in his treatment versus the one involving David Laughing Horse Robinson, Chairman of the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon in California.

“The battlegrounds facing Native people today routinely look less like Standing Rock and yet quietly, and more destructively, carve up American Indian sovereignty on a day-to-day basis, one decision at a time. At some point, the distress flag has to be raised. When we try to take these fights to the court system, as the Golden Hill Paugussetts did for so long in Connecticut, the outcomes rarely take our positions under serious consideration to even render a fair judgment. The trend of these rulings would make even a casual observer take pause, let alone lose faith in the system,” Dancing Elk told me.

Read More on the Story:
Charles Kader: Grass Roots Legal Concepts Intentionally Forgotten in Modern Indian Law Rulings (Indian Country Media Network 3/28)