Nebraska won't fully concede despite loss in Omaha Tribe's case

Veterans of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska participate in an annual parade on the reservation. Photo from Facebook

The state of Nebraska is standing down -- for now -- in a long-running battle over the sovereignty of the Omaha Tribe.

Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) acknowledged defeat on Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a unanimous vote that the reservation has not been diminished. But he pointed out that the underlying issue -- whether the tribe can impose liquor taxes on businesses in the village of Pender -- has not been resolved.

"The Attorney General does not contemplate taking additional legal action unless the tribe attempts to exercise future governing or taxing authority over the disputed area," Peterson said in a statement.

Despite losing both questions in the case, Peterson referred to Pender as being in a "disputed area" of the reservation. The opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, however, confirms that the village always has been Indian Country.

The tribe celebrated the victory but did not say whether it would follow through with the tax effort. Pender at one point was home to 10 liquor establishments, according to Peterson's office, even though it has only about 1,000 residents.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in Nebraska v. Parker

"The Umonhon people are strong and resilient and will continue to practice our way of life on the land," Chairman Vernon Miller said in a press release.

Even if the tribe did not move forward with the taxes or was somehow prevented from doing so, Pender remains a part of the reservation, whose boundaries can only be changed by Congress, Justice Thomas wrote.

"Only Congress has the power to diminish a reservation. And though petitioners wish that Congress would have 'spoken differently' in 1882, 'we cannot remake history,'" Thomas wrote, citing DeCoteau v. District Court for the Tenth Judicial Court, a reservation boundary case from 1974.

The case was being closely watched in Indian Country because the state parties wanted the high court to revisit its precedents in diminishment cases. The Tribal Supreme Court Project, a joint initiative of the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund, rallied support for the Omaha Tribe.

“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the Omaha Tribe’s reservation lands which were established by treaties is a substantial victory for Indian Country,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said in a press release. “The ruling in Nebraska v. Parker reaffirms long settled legal precedent protecting reservation lands from erroneous claims of diminishment. It also provides tribes with additional certainty when exercising jurisdiction, self-governance, and self-determination over their lands.”

“I congratulate the Omaha Tribe and its attorneys on today’s unanimous decision. Every judge that heard this case, from the District Court all the way to the United States Supreme Court, has affirmed and followed long-standing legal rules protecting reservation lands," added John Echohawk, the executive director of NARF. "This tribe’s hard-won victory is also an important win for Indian Country.”

Get the Story:
Supreme Court decision could lead to tribal taxes on Pender businesses (The Lincoln Journal Star 3/23)
Supreme Court: Pender is within Omaha Indian Reservation boundaries; legality of tribe's liquor tax unclear (The Omaha World-Herald 3/23)
Supreme Court rules Pender is within tribal boundaries (The Sioux City Journal 3/23)
US Supreme Court rules against Pender in dispute with Omaha Tribe (Nebraska Radio Network 3/22)
Supreme Court upholds ruling that Pender is on tribal reservation boundaries (Siouxland Matters 3/22)
U.S. Supreme Court Backs Indian Tribe in Case Eyed by School Districts (Ed Week 3/22)
SCOTUS Rules for Tribe in Liquor Tax Dispute (Courthouse News Service 3/22)
Indian Victory At Supreme Court Is An 8-0 Tribute To Scalia's Textualism (Forbes 3/22)
Omaha Tribe Wins Unanimous Decision at SCOTUS (Indian Country Today 3/22)

Supreme Court Decision:
Nebraska v. Parker (March 22, 2016)

Supreme Court Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet No. 14-1406 | Questions Presented | Hearing List: January 2016

8th Circuit Decision:
Smith v. Parker (December 19, 2014)

Federal Court Documents:
Status Report [Includes tribal court decision] | Court Order

Also Today:
Opinion analysis by Lyle Denniston : History lessons along the old frontier (SCOTUSBlog 3/22)

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