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Case Analysis



Flute v. Unite States, 808 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir. 2015).

By: Zach Underwood

The case of Flute v. United States arose due to an unprovoked attack by the United States Army on a group of unarmed Indians in 1864.  This attack later became known as the Sand Creek Massacre since it resulted in the deaths of many Indians, including women and children.  After the attack, the United States government publicly acknowledged its role in the attack and agreed to pay reparations to survivors of the massacre, but these reparations were never paid.  The plaintiffs in this class action suit were descendants of the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre who sought an accounting of the reparation payments that they alleged the United States government held in trust for them.  The district court dismissed this suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs appealed. See PDF for complete summary.


United States v. Rainbow, No. 15-1936 (8th Cir. Feb. 19, 2016).

By: Brooke Hamilton

Christopher and Jordan Rainbow were charged with “assault to commit murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, and assault resulting in serious bodily injury,” and with assaulting Sophia Bear Stops, both “individually” and “by aiding and abetting.”  To convict the men on each count, the government had to prove the two men were “Indians” and the “offense occurred within Indian Country.”  See PDF for complete summary.



United States v. Zepeda, 10-10131, 2013 WL 5273093 (9th Cir. Sept. 19, 2013).

By: Julia Cotter

In United States v. Zepeda, the defendant drove to the victim’s home on the Ak-Chin Reservation in Arizona, and opened fire on the people within.  He seriously injured one person, and was charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence.  The defendant was alleged to be an “Indian” in the indictment. See PDF for complete summary.


Alto v. Black, ---F.3d --- , 13 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 13, 995, WL 6813816 (9th Cir.) (2013).

By: Sara Daly

In Alto v. Black, the 9th Circuit held that an appeal from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (hereinafter “BIA”) decision regarding membership was reviewable under the APA, and that the tribe was not a necessary party to the suit because of their delegation of final membership determination to the BIA.  See PDF for complete summary.


Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar, 953 F. Supp.2d 195 (D.C.C. March 31, 2013).

By: Julia Cotter

In Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar, Alaskan Native Tribes and an individual brought suit challenging a regulation that prevented Alaskan Natives from entering into the land-into-trust application process in the state of Alaska.  In 1971 Congress passed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which “revoked the various reserves set aside for Native use’ by legislative or executive action, except for the Annette Island Reserve inhabited by the Metlakatla Indians, and completely extinguished all aboriginal claims to Alaska land.”  Native Alaskans instead received funds in their state-chartered private businesses as shareholders.  The first issue the court examined was whether the Secretary of the Interior retained his land-into-trust authority, or whether it was extinguished by the passage of the act.  See PDF for complete summary.


Evans v. Shoshone-Bannock Land Use Policy Com’n, 736 F.3d 1298 (9th Cir.) (Dec. 5, 2013).

By: Sara Daly

In Evans v. Shoshone-Bannock Land Use Policy Com’n, the 9th Circuit held that land on a reservation owned in fee simple by a non-Indian was clearly not in the jurisdiction of tribal courts. The court narrowly applied the rules formulated by Brendale, finding that the nature of the reservation area including the ‘non-Indian land’ was not closed to the public in a way that would allow it to fit the narrow zoning exception that would uphold tribal jurisdiction. This decision demonstrates the narrow application of Montana.  See PDF for complete summary.


Dolgencorp, Inc. v. Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians, 732 F.3d 409 (5th Cir. 2013).

By: Shane Hill

In Dolgencorp, Inc. v. Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians,  the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division's grant of summary judgment in favor of the tribal defendants.   The Fifth Circuit held that Dolgencorp's consensual relationship with tribal plaintiff, John Doe, gave rise to tribal court jurisdiction over Doe's claims  under Montana v. United States.   This case is significant because the Fifth Circuit's interpretation and application of Montana and Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Co., Inc.  provide Indian tribes with more ground to assert jurisdiction over the activities of nonmembers, which in turn increases tribal sovereignty.  See PDF for complete summary.


United States v. First, 731 F.3d 998 (9th Cir. 2013).

By: Shane Hill

In United States v. First,  the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the United States District Court for the District of Montana's dismissal of the government's indictment of Lakota Thomas First for misdemeanor firearms possession.   The Ninth Circuit held that misdemeanor convictions obtained in tribal courts may qualify as predicate offenses to a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9)  if the defendant was provided whatever right to counsel existed in the misdemeanor proceeding.  This case is significant because it reinforces circuit precedent that any right to counsel in tribal courts may vary from the Sixth Amendment constitutional minimum in state and federal proceedings.  Furthermore, this case also stands for the notion that predicate offenses obtained in tribal court may be valid for further prosecutions if existing safeguards at the tribal court level were provided.  See PDF for complete summary.



Muwekma Ohlone Tribe v. Salazar, No. 11-5328, 2013 WL 765009 (D.C. Cir. March 1, 2013).

By: Adam J. Holcomb

In Muwekma Ohlone Tribe v. Salazar, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied the Muwekma's petition to order the Secretary of the Interior to recognize it as an Indian tribe. This case is significant because the Muwekma were previously a federally recognized Indian tribe, but, unlike other similarly situated tribes, they were not allowed to enjoy a summary process to re-attain recognition. The circuit court held the Muwekma case is distinguishable from other cases where previously recognized tribes enjoyed an easier road to recognition because the interaction between Muwekma members and the federal government did not equate to interaction on a government-to-government basis.  See PDF for complete summary.

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