Tribes Praise Proposal to Overturn Court Ruling

By Adam Ashton, Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said Monday he plans to introduce a bill this week that would overturn Nevada v. Hicks, a 2-year-old Supreme Court ruling that Indian tribes say has diminished their sovereignty.

Inouye, an influential voice in Congress on American Indian matters, said the bill would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians, including state officials. That matter was a key issue in the 2001 case that involved the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe of Nevada. The court ruled 9-0 against the tribe.

Speaking to the National Congress of American Indians, Inouye said state laws should not inhibit the authority of tribal governments. “If we get this passed, and that should be our goal, then you can throw Nevada versus Hicks out of the window,” Inouye said. His pledge triggered a standing ovation in a crowded ballroom at the Washington hotel where American Indians gathered for their annual conference.

Inouye’s promise is one part of a plan being devised by tribal leaders and allies in response to the Hicks case and other lawsuits that have eroded tribal sovereignty in recent years.

“It may take many years but we are fighting back,” said association president Tex Hall. Inouye said his bill also would require the Department of Homeland Security to consider tribes equal to states in weighing requests for grants. Inouye said American Indians are responsible for protecting the 260 miles of Indian country that border Canada or Mexico.

Presently, tribes are treated as local governments and must lobby their states for a portion of the security funds, said Jacqueline Johnson, NCAI’s executive director.