Ninth Circuit Holds Timbisha Leadership Dispute Mooted by Adoption of New Constitution

Here is the opinion in Timbisha Shoshone Tribe v. Dept. of Interior.

The court’s syllabus:

The panel dismissed, as moot, an appeal from the district court’s dismissal of a case challenging the Department of the Interior’s recognition of the election results for leadership authority over the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. The panel held that the Tribe’s recent adoption of a new constitution, which overhauled tribal membership requirements, mooted the appeal because there was no chance that a remand to the Bureau of Indian Affairs would make any difference whatsoever in the election results.

Briefs here.

One thought on “Ninth Circuit Holds Timbisha Leadership Dispute Mooted by Adoption of New Constitution

  1. Jeff Keohane May 27, 2016 / 7:11 pm

    This case is about the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) deposing the legitimately elected, highly independent tribal government of the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and replacing it with a more tractable group far from the Tribe’s reservation and homeland.

    It is important to note that at no time in the last five years has any court actually reviewed the administrative record of this case or given a hearing on the merits to the last duly elected Tribal Council of the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.

    To insulate itself from the review of the federal courts, the federal government disingenuously claimed that this conflict was merely an intra-tribal disagreement over tribal membership and elections. Ironically—and tragically for the Timbisha of Death Valley—the federal courts agreed, refusing to remove BIA from the Tribe’s internal affairs on the grounds that the federal courts lack authority to intervene in internal tribal affairs.

    In 2008, the highest authority of the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, its General Council, met and resolved an internal Tribal leadership contest. BIA employees, however, decided that they did not approve of the Tribal Election Board’s decision to require proof of membership to vote. Without the required due process, BIA defunded the Tribe in 2010, leading to the end of tribal services and the layoff of all tribal employees in Death Valley—all Timbisha members—and declared the nonexistence of the functioning tribal government.

    When the Tribe did not capitulate, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior—Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., purported to overrule the duly enacted resolutions of the General Council, literally redefining Timbisha law as he saw fit. He then offered to fund and recognize as a tribal government a group that had never been elected and was located in Bishop, CA, over 100 miles from the Tribe’s Death Valley Homeland established by the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000. In contrast to the Death Valley Tribal Council, the Bishop group, established in order to facilitate an off-reservation casino, could operate because it was funded by a would-be casino developer and convicted felon.

    This is a cautionary tale for all Indian tribes—BIA may withdraw its recognition of your leadership at any time, bestow it on another faction, and the courts will not interfere based on the doctrine that they must not meddle in tribal affairs—even to stop BIA from meddling in tribal affairs.

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