Description: Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments in Arizona v. Navajo Nation, a case that pertains to the Navajo Nation’s claims to water rights in the mainstem of the Colorado River and the United States’ trust obligation to assess and assert those rights under the Court’s more-than-century-old Winters doctrine. Although this current case ostensibly relates to one Tribe’s rights to one specific water source, the forthcoming Supreme Court ruling could have ripple effects for Native Nations across the United States as they seek to assert, quantify, and settle their water rights in ongoing adjudications nationwide. Join law professors Heather Whiteman Runs Him (University of Arizona), Derrick Beetso (Arizona State University), and Heather Tanana (University of Utah) for a discussion about the Arizona v. Navajo Nation oral arguments, the potentially wide-ranging implications of the case, and their work on the amicus briefs they coauthored and submitted to the Court, during this free virtual event sponsored by the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources’ (SEER) Native American Resources Committee and Water Resources Committee.
This panel will explore the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, including how the decision could affect future cases involving tribal rights as well as the ruling’s on-the-ground impacts on environmental regulatory authority within the recently reaffirmed reservation boundaries in eastern Oklahoma.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2020 opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma affirmed the historic reservation boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in eastern Oklahoma, ruling that Congress’s lack of any clear action or intent to diminish that reservation’s boundaries left them intact. Hailed by some Indian law scholars and practitioners as the most significant Indian law case of the twenty-first century, the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma has potentially wide-ranging impacts for future litigation involving tribal rights and Indian reservation boundaries throughout the United States. Although the McGirt case itself focused on one reservation in eastern Oklahoma, the Supreme Court’s adoption of a strong, textualist-based approach in the McGirt opinion could signal a new era in federal Indian law that has ramifications for treaty rights and reservation-diminishment cases far beyond Oklahoma’s borders. Meanwhile, despite the Court’s reaffirmation of Indian reservation boundaries in eastern Oklahoma, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s request to grant the State, not Native Nations, authority over environmental issues within their reservations, raising new jurisdictional questions for Oklahoma Tribes.
Our esteemed panel will offer attendees an understanding of the potentially wide-ranging nature of the McGirt decision, as well information about the ruling’s on-the-ground impacts in eastern Oklahoma. Native American law scholar Matthew L. M. Fletcher (Michigan State University) will provide crucial perspective that places McGirt within the broader framework of federal Indian law, while Riyaz Kanji (Kanji & Katzen) will offer insight into the arguments that led to the McGirt decision, as well as commenting on how Tribes outside of Oklahoma might rely on the ruling in future cases involving tribal rights and reservation boundaries. Finally, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill will share her perspective about the post-McGirt regulatory landscape, following the EPA’s October 2020 decision to grant the State of Oklahoma environmental authority within the Indian reservations in eastern Oklahoma.
On March 17-19, 2011, the Section on Environmental, Energy, and Resources (SEER) will hold its 40th Annual Conference on Environmental Law in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Native American Resources Committee, in partnership with the Section’s Special Committee on Project Funding, is particularly pleased to announce the availability of several American Indian Travel Stipends for the Conference, which can be used to help reimburse attendees for their tuition, travel, and hotel costs. This Conference continues to be one of the best and most important professional gatherings for environmental law practitioners, including academics, nonprofit lawyers, in-house counsel, and government lawyers. Topics will include, but not be limited to challenges to implementation of climate change regulations, fallout from the Gulf Oil Spill including unique considerations for impacted tribes, and issues raised by off-shore wind projects. Besides three days of cutting-edge plenary and breakout sessions packed with expert panels and speakers, there will be an abundance of networking opportunities, along with public service activities and fabulous skiing nearby. The Conference brochure is available at:
Targeted applicants for these stipends are reservation-based and other Indian law attorneys who are interested in attending and learning more about Section membership, but who are not able to do so without financial assistance. Applicants do not need to be members of the ABA to apply. If you are interested in applying for one of the American Indian Travel Stipends, it’s easy–just send an e-mail of interest, including your background information, to: Kimberly Craven, Membership Vice Chair, Native American Resources Committee, at Kimberly.Craven@nrel.gov. The deadline for applying is COB Monday, February 21, 2011.
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