The MHA Nation and individual Native American voters in North Dakota have filed a motion to intervene as defendants into a North Dakota District Court redistricting case. The plaintiffs have sued the State to overturn a legislative subdistrict for the Fort Berthold Reservation. The MHA Nation and tribal member intervenors are seeking to defend the Fort Berthold Reservation subdistrict that was approved by the North Dakota legislature.
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Spirit Lake Tribe, and several individual voters filed suit in North Dakota challenging North Dakota’s state legislative map as unlawfully diluting the voting rights of Native Americans in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). You can see the complaint here.
On July 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision in Brnovich v. DNC that upheld two Arizona voting policies that make it harder for people—and especially people of color and Native Americans—to vote.
BACKGROUND: On March 2, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The case looks at whether two issues of Arizona voting law—restricting out-of-precinct ballots and ballot collection—violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In 2016, Arizona lawmakers passed laws limiting ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting. Ballot collection is an essential tool that rural Native American communities use to make voting accessible to all eligible voters.
Native Americans are entitled to full access to the political process, but failures rooted in devastating policies and discrimination create needless barriers to the ballot. Services such as post offices and drivers’ license sites require hours of travel, postal delivery and residential addressing is insufficient or completely absent, poorly maintained dirt roads become impassable during November election season, lack of internet and cell phone coverage abound on reservation, and insufficient economic means and transportation make it impossible to access basic government services. There also have been instances of untrustworthy election officials capitalizing on these inequities to disenfranchise voters and undermine Native American political power. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act provides much needed protections against this type of systemic voter disenfranchisement.
On Wednesday, February 24, 2021, in an order from Klamath County Circuit Court Judge Cameron F. Wogan, the Oregon court again affirmed the Klamath Tribes’ water and treaty rights. Wednesday’s order rejected attacks on the Tribes’ water rights determined by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) during the administrative phase of the Klamath Basin Adjudication (KBA), affirmed the senior priority date of the Klamath Tribes’ water rights in the Klamath Basin, and upheld the need to maintain a healthy and productive habitat to meet the Tribes’ treaty right to fish, hunt, trap, and gather.
Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry responded to the order, “We are pleased that Judge Wogan upheld the rulings from the administrative phase of the KBA. He reaffirmed that the 1864 treaty entered into between the Klamath Tribes and the United States reserved to the Tribes sufficient water to keep our fisheries and other aquatic resources healthy so that we can protect our natural resources and cultural traditions.”
NARF Staff Attorney Sue Noe explained, “Judge Wogan correctly affirmed quantification of the Tribal water rights based on the habitat needs of the fish, wildlife, and plants. Although he ruled that opponents of the Tribal rights will have another chance to try to reduce the amounts by showing the Tribes don’t need all the water awarded by OWRD to meet their livelihood needs, Judge Wogan made clear in no uncertain terms that the amounts cannot be below what is necessary to provide healthy and productive habitat.”
Importantly, like all other courts that have considered the issue, Judge Wogan ruled that the Klamath Tribes’ water rights extend to Upper Klamath Lake. Upper Klamath Lake forms part of the border of the former Reservation and provides critical habitat for the endangered c’waam and koptu (Lost River and shortnose sucker fish), which are sacred fish species traditionally harvested by the Tribes.
Represented by NARF, the Klamath Tribes successfully achieved recognition of their treaty-reserved water rights in federal court litigation in the 1970s and 1980s in United States v. Adair, but the federal courts left quantification of the water rights to the state adjudication in the KBA. After the successful conclusion of the KBA’s 38-year administrative phase, the Tribes were able to begin enforcing their water rights for the first time in 2013. The administrative determinations are presently on review in the Klamath County Circuit Court and Judge Wogan’s ruling is the latest to come out of that process.
Here is the National Congress of American Indians’ (“NCAI”) Amicus Brief in Trump v. New York, which is being argued today and addresses whether unauthorized immigrants should now be excluded from the Census count.
From the brief:
Multiple amici argue, in effect, that unauthorized immigrants are not “persons” to be counted for purposes of apportionment. Because the United States once tried to argue that American Indians were not “persons” under the law, amicus NCAI is compelled to refute these arguments.
These arguments are inconsistent with the Constitution’s text and history. Worse still, in a nation where “all persons are created equal,” Matthews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495, 516 (1976) (Stevens, J., dissenting), see also Declaration of Independence ¶ 2 (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . . .”), these attempts to deny the very personhood of unauthorized immigrants are morally bankrupt.