The state of Maine can enforce its employment laws on the Aroostook
Band of Micmac Indians, a divided federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
By a 2-1 vote, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals said the
tribe has to answer to an employment dispute
before the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The majority said Congress abrogated the tribe's sovereign
immunity through a land claim settlement act that subjected
Maine Indians to state laws.
The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 didn't cite the
Aroostook Band by name. It was written to settle the land claims of
the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy
Tribe and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and to grant
them federal recognition.
But the 1st Circuit pointed to a critical section in the act
that covers "all" Maine tribes.
Even though Congress, in 1991, enacted a law specific to the
Aroostook Band that didn't contain a similar provision,
the court said the 1980 act applies.
"Whatever powers are included within 'inherent tribal authority,'
Congress may abrogate those powers by statute," Judge
Sandra L. Lynch wrote for the majority.
The decision marks a significant turnaround for the Aroostook Band.
Just a little over two years ago, the court had determined that the tribe's
sovereignty was at risk before the Maine
"An Indian tribe that is unlawfully called to answer before a state agency may
suffer both practical harms and intrusions upon its sovereignty," Judge
Kermit Lipez wrote in the unanimous decision on April 13, 2005.
But an unrelated event on July 14, 2005, changed everything. That was the
day when Rhode Island state troopers raided the Narragansett
Reservation, setting up a major sovereignty dispute that reverberates today.
The Narragansett Tribe sued the state, arguing that the raid violated
its sovereignty. But after hearing the case twice,
an en banc
panel of the 1st Circuit said the state was within
its rights, citing a land claim settlement act
that subjected the tribe to state laws.
The decision set precedent for all tribes in the 1st Circuit -- Rhode Island,
Maine and Massachusetts.
That meant the Aroostook Band's favorable ruling from April 13, 2005, was
effectively overturned even though it wasn't part of the Narragansett
But like the Narragansett case, the Micmac case isn't likely to end soon,
due to the divided decision.
Lipez, who wrote the April 2005 opinion that protected the tribe's
sovereignty, authored a dissent yesterday in which he said he would do it again.
Lipez disagreed with the majority's decision to place the tribe
under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. He said the law was
superseded by the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Settlement Act of 1991
"In my view," he wrote, "MICSA no longer governs the relationship
between the Band and the State."
The conflicting views mean the case is likely to be heard by
an en banc
panel of the 1st Circuit, which has been busy with
Indian cases. In January, the full court heard a land-into-trust
dispute affecting the ability of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
to take land into trust for the Narragansett Tribe.
The case has the potential to could affect all Maine and
Massachusetts tribes. Among other claims,
Rhode Island argues that tribes who
weren't federally recognized as of the Indian Reorganization Act
of 1934 cannot acquire new land.
The earliest New England tribal
recognition came in 1980, with the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.
The most recent is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts,
whose recognition will becomes final next month.
Get the Decision:
Aroostook Band v. Ryan
(April 17, 2007)
Band v. Ryan
(December 5, 2005) } Aroostook Band v.
(April 13, 2005)
Tribe v. Rhode Island
(May 24, 2006)
Relevant Laws:Maine Tribal Settlement Acts
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission - http://www.mitsc.org
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