FROM THE ARCHIVE
Tribes rally Navajo Nation on trust case
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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2002

Fearing a potential disaster at the hands of the Supreme Court, tribes across the country are supporting the Navajo Nation's $600 million breach of trust case.

Although not parties to the suit, the tribes contend a "significant stake" in its outcome. In court briefs, they dispute the United States' attempt to limit its fiduciary obligations to Indian Country.

"In Indian breach of trust cases," the Mississippi Band of Choctaw brief states, "the basic issue is justice."

In addition to the Choctaw Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Laguna Pueblo, both of New Mexico, have submitted briefs. All three tribes have considerable oil, gas and timber assets.

"The government's proper management of and accounting for the tribes' resources is of the utmost importance to the tribes and to their efforts to provide services and economic opportunity to their members," the joint Jicarilla-Laguna brief reads.

The nation's largest inter-tribal organization also weighs in. In its brief, the National Congress of American Indians, which represents more than 250 tribes and Alaska Native governments, urges the Supreme Court to uphold the trust relationship.

"It does not take a law degree to appreciate that a most fundamental breach of trust occurred in this case," NCAI wrote. "It does not take much common sense to reach the same conclusion."

The tribal briefs counter the Bush administration's attempt to overturn the Navajo Nation's victory at a lower court. In August 2001, a split panel of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals said the United States breached its trust by "suppressing and concealing" key information about a coal mining lease whose provisions were unfavorable to the tribe but beneficial to Peabody Coal, the largest coal conglomerate in the world.

Solicitor General Ted Olson, who represents the federal government in the case, argues that the ruling is out of bounds with Supreme Court precedent. His court briefs paint a broad attack against trust mismanagement claims.

"The decision below will encourage the filing of damages claims against the United States for breach of trust," he wrote in a March 15 brief. "At a minimum, such a development will subject the United States to costly litigation."

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in U.S. v. Navajo Nation, No. 01-1375, on December 2. A related case, U.S. v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, No. 01-1067, will also be presented that day.

Related Documents:
Supreme Court Docket Sheet No. 01-1375

Court Briefs:
Petition: United States | Reply: United States | Merits: United States | Merits: Navajo Nation | Joint Appendix Vol. I | Joint Appendix Vol. II

Decisions Below:
NAVAJO NATION v. US, No 00-5086 (Fed Cir. August 10, 2001)

Relevant Links:
The Navajo Nation - http://www.navajo.org

Related Stories:
Peabody sides with Bush administration on trust (09/04)
U.S. argues limits as trustee (8/9)
Legal tactics land Peabody in hot seat (7/22)
Griles slammed for ignorance (7/12)
Griles can't explain trust standards (6/27)
Navajo royalty case accepted (6/4)
Don Hodel's Navajo Folly (6/4)
Supreme Court accepts Navajo trust case (6/3)
Navajo royalty case up for review (5/30)
Supreme Court considers 'deception' of trust (5/22)
Action due on Navajo trust case (5/20)
Court to decide limits of trust duty (4/23)
Bush wants Navajo ruling reversed (3/27)
Court rules Navajo Nation owed money (8/14)
Apache Tribe wins trust case appeal (5/17)
Tribe wins trust case appeal (5/14)

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