The North Fork Rancheria maintains an office in North Fork, California. Photo: North Fork Rancheria

'Enough is enough!' -- Yet another tribe scores big victory in homelands case

Indian Country continues to rack up victories when it comes to the restoration of tribal homelands.

This time it's the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians with a big win. By a unanimous vote, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday backed the tribe's land-into-trust application for a 305-acre site in northern California.

The tribe was one of the many victims of the federal government's disastrous termination policy and was later restored to recognition through a court settlement. Despite this well-documented history, an opposition group known as Stand Up for California! claimed the tribe was illegitimate and could not follow the land-into-trust process.

"Enough is enough! Stand Up demands an unnecessary—indeed impossible— genealogical exercise," Judge David S. Tatel wrote in the 26-page ruling.

But Stand Up wasn't the only one rebuked by the court. The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, whose leadership was once in such disarray that its casino was shut down by federal authorities for 14 months, also failed to make a case against the Department of the Interior.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals oral arguments in Stand Up for California! v. Department of the Interior

"Given the reduced weight the Department permissibly assigned the Picayune’s concerns, it concluded—appropriately in our view—that the casino’s potential effects on the tribe were insufficient to render the casino detrimental to the surrounding community overall," Tatel wrote for the three-judge panel in the case.

The decision marks the fourth recent victory of its kind. In the past two years, the D.C. Circuit, one of the most influential in the nation because of its dealings in federal legal issues, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears a large number of Indian law cases, have consistently sided with tribes and Interior.

At the same time, the Trump administration is actively trying to discourage tribes from seeking new homelands. One senior political official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs has even warned vaguely of "bad court cases" that somehow need to be addressed through new, and more restrictive, regulations.

Former legal and political officials at Interior and BIA have had trouble coming up with more than one case that might fit the description. But that isn't stopping the Trump team from moving forward with proposed changes to the Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151) that are widely opposed in Indian Country.

After tribes trashed the changes, the BIA agreed to delay the roll-out. But talks are scheduled to start up next week, with additional consultations due to run through next month.

The changes, if adopted, won't overturn the North Fork Rancheria's application. But litigation has delayed the tribe's economic opportunities -- plans for a modest gaming facility have been on hold despite winning approval for the project back in September 2011.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the D.C. Circuit proceeding, , Stand Up For California! v. Department of the Interior.

The decision, incidentally, came from a panel of three judges that included Merrick Garland, who was tapped for the Supreme Court by former president Barack Obama in part due to his experience on the D.C. Circuit. Republicans refused to consider his nomination, leaving a vacant seat that was eventually filled by President Donald Trump last year.

The full schedule for the Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151) consultations follows:
Date Time (Local) Location
Tuesday, January 16, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Sacramento Convention Center Complex
1030 15th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Thursday, January 18, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
2400 Mystic Lake Boulevard
Prior Lake, MN 55372
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Foxwoods Resort Casino
350 Trolley Line Boulevard
Mashantucket, CT 06338
Thursday, January 25, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
DoubleTree by Hilton Portland
1000 N.E. Multnomah
Portland, OR 97232
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Heard Museum
2301 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Thursday, February 22, 2018 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Miccosukee Resort & Casino
500 S.W. 177th Avenue
Miami, FL 33194

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Stand Up for California! v. U.S. Department of the Interior (January 11, 2018)

Recent Appeals Court Decisions in Tribal Homelands Cases:
Amador County v. Department of the Interior (November 27, 2017)
County of Amador v. Department of the Interior (October 6, 2017)
No Casino in Plymouth v. Zinke (October 6, 2017)
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon v. Jewell (July 29, 2016)

Tribal Leader Opinions on H.R.5079, the California Compact Protection Act:
Maryann McGovran: Don't be fooled by efforts of 'wealthy' tribes (5/13)
Claudia Gonzales: Off-reservation gaming fuels attacks on tribes (5/13)

Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents for North Fork Rancheria:
Press Release | Fact Sheet | Section 20 Determination

Federal Register Notices:
Indian Gaming (October 22, 2013)
Land Acquisitions; North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California (December 3, 2012)

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Another appeals court decision backs restoration of tribal homelands in California (November 29, 2017)
Second federal appeals court chimes in with decision favoring tribal homelands (October 12, 2017)