indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Court dismisses California membership lawsuit
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Filed Under: Law | National | Politics

A California tribe that was terminated did not lose the right to define its membership after regaining recognition, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

In a unanimous decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it would be wrong to treat restored tribes different from other tribes. Despite being terminated in 1958, the Mooretown Rancheria retained the right to set its membership criteria, a three-judge panel ruled.

"The termination and restoration of Mooretown Rancheria does not justify depriving it of its sovereign power to define its membership when it organized a tribal government in 1987," Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld wrote.

The decision means the Bureau of Indian Affairs can't force the rancheria to enroll dozens of people who might otherwise qualify for membership. It was the plaintiffs, in fact, who were part of the landmark Tillie Hardwick litigation that resulted in several California tribes being restored to recognition.

But the plaintiffs were excluded from the Mooretown Rancheria because a different group established the tribe's membership criteria. As a result, their voting rights are restricted and they cannot share in profits from a successful casino.

"Thus, although the plaintiffs are Concow-Maidu Indians descended from people who have lived at Mooretown Rancheria for a very long time, they lack the rights of full members of the Mooretown Rancheria tribe," the court noted.

Despite the history, the court said it lacked the power to force the BIA to act. The judges noted that the agency -- which agreed to restore the tribes as part of the Hardwick litigation -- did not play a role in reorganizing the rancheria.

"Uncontradicted evidence establishes that Mooretown Rancheria itself squeezed them out, and that it did not act at the behest of the BIA," the court said. "It did not need the BIA’s permission and did not ask for it, and the BIA never purported to tell it how to define its membership."

At the same time, the 9th Circuit noted that tribal sovereignty can be affected by the federal government. "An Indian tribe has the power to define membership as it chooses, subject to the plenary power of Congress," Kleinfeld wrote for the panel.

Even then, the judges said sovereign immunity protects a tribe from suit without a voluntary waiver or a waiver from Congress. Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the panel stated that "tribes remain quasi-sovereign nations which, by government structure, culture, and source of sovereignty are in many ways foreign to the constitutional institutions of the federal and state governments."

The Mooretown plaintiffs sued the BIA in hopes of overcoming the tribal sovereignty hurdles. Other disenrolled California Indians have adopted similar strategies but the state and federal courts have refused to intervene in membership disputes so far.

Recognizing Congress' plenary power and pointing to the ouster of at least 1,500 California Indians, the American Indian Rights and Resource Organization has been seeking changes in federal law to allow membership disputes to be heard in federal court. Some leaders in the California Democratic party have taken up the cause amid charges that wealthy tribes are ousting people in order to limit per capita gaming payments.

Nationally, the issue has gained media and Congressional attention due to the ouster of the Freedmen, the descendants of African slaves, from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Rep. Diane Watson (D-California) is introducing a bill to cut federal funding to the tribe until it restores citizenship to the Freedmen.

Court Decision:
Williams v. Gover (June 20, 2007)

Relevant Links:
Mooretown Rancheria history - http://www.featherfallscasino.com/history.html
American Indian Rights and Resource Organization - http://www.airro.org
Pechanga Tribal Disenrollment - http://www.pechanga.info
Tribal Corruption - http://www.tribalcorruption.com

Related Stories:
Ousted Redding Rancheria families protest (6/21)
Rep. Watson to introduce Cherokee Freedmen bill (6/21)
Column: Bill helps wealthy tribes purge members (06/14)
Disenrolled Indians oppose exclusion bill in California (6/7)
AIM leader criticizes tribal disenrollments (5/3)
California Democrats consider ICRA resolution (04/25)
Man seeks healing over Pechanga disenrollment (03/13)
Pechanga Band runs ad against disenrollment story (2/21)
Women disenrolled after criticizing leaders (12/13)
USA Today: Tribes remove thousands from rolls (11/29)
Chukchansi Tribe latest to disenroll members (11/27)
Disenrolled Indians tie ouster to tribal greed (11/24)
California Indians cite growing disenrollments (11/08)
Former members protest Enterprise Rancheria (10/05)
Expert disputes Pechanga Band on disenrollment (09/25)
Opinion: Pechanga Band purges family of heritage (09/05)
Column: Tribal nations evict their own people (8/25)
Column: Pechanga family and Pluto demoted (8/25)
Column: Pechanga Band decimating Indians (8/22)
Pechanga Band removes another family from roll (8/21)
Disenrolled Indians seek accountability (08/07)
Disenrollment an issue in Pechanga Band election (07/13)
Greed, politics behind tribal enrollment spats (07/06)
Ex-Table Mountain members protest at powwow (06/12)
Editorial: Supreme Court passes on sovereignty (05/29)
Pechanga Band calls refusal of membership case a win (5/24)
Tribal membership case rejected by U.S. Supreme Court (5/23)
California Indians protest removal from tribes (05/01)
Campbell amendment put to test in court case (4/21)
Another Pechanga family faces removal from tribe (03/21)
Ousted Pechangas take case to U.S. Supreme Court (3/17)
Identity Theft: California Indians lose tribal rights (01/26)
BIA asked to rule on rancheria membership dispute (1/20)
Disenrolled Indians to hold rally in Palm Springs (1/10)
Disenrolled Pechangas to take case to Supreme Court (12/15)
Per capita payments under tribal, federal scrutiny (09/26)
Court won't take on tribal enrollment dispute (9/14)
Pechanga Band says money not behind enrollment (08/10)
Disenrollment suit dismissed in California (8/9)
Ousted Pechangas plan appeal of enrollment lawsuit (8/9)
Disenrolled Pechangas seek $38M in damages (08/04)
Pechanga Band enrollment dispute closely watched (07/11)
Court hears Pechanga Band enrollment dispute (7/7)
McKosato: Greed behind ouster of tribal members (05/23)
Opinion: Gaming has turned tribes on other tribes (5/20)
Ousted Redding Rancheria members head to forum (5/19)
Forum calls attention to tribal disenrollments (5/18)
Family fights disenrollment from Sauk-Suiattle Tribe (5/18)
California AIM blames greed for mass disenrollments (5/16)
Editorial: Disenrollment becoming too common (04/01)
Ousted Pechangas file another lawsuit against tribe (03/28)
California tribe changes status of some members (3/28)
Pechanga Band avoids dedication of city park (03/09)
Woman ejected from Pechanga Band in despair (01/27)
County investigates shooting on Pechanga land (01/14)
State judge won't dismiss lawsuit over tribal enrollment (07/27)
Pechanga Band votes to retain Macarro as chairman (07/19)
Battle for top Pechanga post heats up before vote (7/16)
Disenrolled tribal members call for more oversight (07/15)
Ousted tribal members appeal to Pechanga council (07/02)
Pechanga chairman faces election challenge (07/02)
Judge weighs ruling in Pechanga disenrollment (04/20)
2,000 California Indians face disenrollment (04/14)
Pechanga descendants protest against enrollment policy (04/06)
Opinion: Greed, spite, history behind disenrollment (4/5)
Opinion: Calif. tribes disenrolling more people (4/1)
Pechanga tribal committee disenrolls 130 people (03/22)
Calif. judge waits on Pechanga enrollment dispute (02/18)
Calif. judge delays Pechanga Tribe's disenrollment (02/05)
Judge won't protect 130 from disenrollment (2/3)
Case tests Pechanga Tribe's right to disenroll 130 (02/02)
Adopted man protests exclusion Pechanga Tribe (01/15)
Pechanga tribe threatens to cut off newspaper (03/14)
Pechanga disenrollment campaign to continue (02/25)
Pechanga chairman surprised by his 'racist' statement (2/24)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tim Giago: Lakota and Pueblo Indians on Pine Ridge Reservation (7/28)
Native Sun News: President of Oglala Sioux Tribe dodges bullets (7/28)
Puyallup fashion designer competes for prize in Project Runway (7/28)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets business meeting on bills (7/28)
NIEA heads to Capitol Hill to advocate for Native language bills (7/28)
Obama signs Pascua Yaqui and Hoonah Indian Association bills (7/28)
Ho-Chunk Inc executive Lance Morgan receives business honor (7/28)
Charles Roessel: BIE reform plan includes teacher certification (7/28)
Troy Eid: Marijuana experiment in Colorado hurts Indian youth (7/28)
BIA hosts scoping meeting on Paiute Tribe land-into-trust bid (7/28)
Cherokee Nation program keeps former inmates out of prison (7/28)
Grand Ronde Tribes disenroll 86 descendants of treaty signer (7/28)
Protest targets disenrollments within Saginaw Chippewa Tribe (7/28)
At least 10 tribes adopt laws to recognize same-sex mariages (7/28)
KUOW: Coeur d'Alene Tribe cleans meth houses with EPA funds (7/28)
Law Article: Supreme Court sends reminder on tribal immunity (7/28)
Unsettled: Passamaquoddy Tribe awaits constitutional reform (7/28)
KGOU: Indian Times review of news affecting Oklahoma tribes (7/28)
Judge hears dispute over United Keetoowah Band gaming site (7/28)
Chumash Tribe plans hotel tower with $160M casino expansion (7/28)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe changes architects for casino plan (7/28)
Soo Tribe casino partner was developer behind failed racetrack (7/28)
Editorial: State must negotiate compact with Pojoaque Pueblo (7/28)
Native Sun News: IHS hospital at Pine Ridge undergoes review (7/25)
Ivan Star Comes Out: Group disturbs tranquility at Bear Butte (7/25)
Indian Health Service discloses privacy breach of patient data (7/25)
BIA extends comment period on federal recognition regulation (7/25)
Navajo Nation president calling for FBI probe of brutal murders (7/25)
Jennie Stockle: Justice for victims of Cedarville mass shooting (7/25)
John Christian Hopkins: Waiting for Belgian waffles at Denny's (7/25)
Steven Pevar: Indian chldren are being taken from their homes (7/25)
IHS pays $53M to settle another contract support cost dispute (7/25)
Shinnecock Nation asserts control over tobacco amid pressure (7/25)
Four sentenced for stealing HHS funds from Oglala Sioux Tribe (7/25)
Unsettled: BIA questions Passamaquoddy forest management (7/25)
ASU News: First graduates of Indian studies master's program (7/25)
Blog: Tanka Fund aims to grow Indian Country's bison economy (7/25)
Opinion: A troubling relationship with Native peoples in Canada (7/25)
Opinion: Auction of tribal property in France sets bad precedent (7/25)
Puyallup Tribe cancels upcoming Ted Nugent concerts at casino (7/25)
Mayor gives conflicting view on Tohono O'odham Nation casino (7/25)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe plans to start work at gaming site (7/25)
Pojoaque Pueblo defends provisions in proposed gaming deal (7/25)
Iipay Nation puts Internet gaming servers on Mohawk reserve (7/25)
Native Sun News: Cobell beneficiaries still waiting on payment (7/24)
Navajo Nation president to discuss brutal murders with mayor (7/24)
NCAI President Cladoosby offers cedar hat to BIA's Washburn (7/24)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.