Stephen Pevar on the Oglala Sioux v. Van Hunnik Victory


All of the cards were stacked against the parents in these proceedings and the parents lost 100 percent of the time.

That’s right, you didn’t misread that. The state won 100 percent of the time, which isn’t surprising given that only the state was allowed to present any evidence and all of that evidence was submitted secretly to the judge. But two South Dakota Indian tribes — the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — and three Indian parents fought back.

Letter from NARF, ACLU, and California Indian Legal Services Regarding Wearing Eagle Feathers at Graduation

Regarding the controversy at Lemoore High School initially forbidding graduating students from wearing an eagle feather on their graduation cap (article here). Letter here.

Typically, an eagle feather is given only in times of great honor – for example, eagle feathers are given to mark great personal achievement. The gift of an eagle feather to a youth is a great honor and is typically given to recognize an important transition in his or her life. Many young people are given eagle feathers upon graduation from high school to signify achievement of this important educational journey and the honor the graduate brings to his or her family, community, and tribe.

Bryce is an enrolled member of the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria, a federally recognized tribe. His Indian heritage comes from his father, who passed away when Bryce was three years old. Bryce’s feathers were gifted to him by his family specifically for this important occasion – his graduation from high school.

Finally, in deciding how to press forward in this matter, we ask Lemoore Union High School District to remember that “in our society and in our culture high school graduation is one of life’s most significant occasions.” Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 595, 112 S.Ct. 2649, 2659, 120 L.Ed.2d 467 (1992). “Graduation is a time for family and those closest to the student to celebrate success and express mutual wishes of gratitude and respect, all to the end of impressing upon the young person that role that it is his or her right and duty to assume in the community and all of its diverse parts.” Id. In light of the significance that the eagle feather has to Native American students, especially at graduation, we urge you to permit Native American students like Bryce Baga to express their religious and spiritual beliefs by wearing eagle feathers on their cap or gown.

BLT: Experts Debate Effects of Voting Rights Act Case on Indian Voting Rights



During a February 22 media conference call with legal experts, Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said he thinks it is the Supreme Court’s duty to reject the challenge of constitutionality of Section 5. “The Section 5 objections enforcement actions…show that the extension of Section 5 in 2006 was more than justified,” McDonald said. In his report, “Voting Rights in Indian Country,” McDonald lays out several discriminatory decisions, such as redistricting in South Dakota, which diluted the Indian vote.

However, Section 5 is not permanent and jurisdictions may terminate or “bail out” from coverage if they have not discriminated for at least 10 years. Nine states are currently covered as a whole: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

According to Patricia Ferguson-Bohnee, law professor at Arizona State University and author of an amicus brief filed by the Navajo Nation, Section 5 has improved American Indian’s voting rights in Arizona. However, she said, voters are still facing challenges, such as distant poll locations, linguistic barriers, and restrictive ID requirements.

James Tucker, a voting rights of counsel with Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker and a primary author of the amicus brief filed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, said Section 5 remains an appropriate measure to prevent the ongoing voting discrimination against Alaska Natives. Section 203 of the Act requires that minorities in certain designated jurisdictions are to be given assistance in voting in their native language.