Fletcher and Singel on Lawyering and the Indian Child Welfare Act

Fletcher and Singel’s paper, “Lawyering the Indian Child Welfare Act,” has been published in the Michigan Law Review. We’re honored to be part of a symposium on civil rights lawyering!

Our abstract:

This Article describes how the statutory structure of child welfare laws enables lawyers and courts to exploit deep-seated stereotypes about American Indian people rooted in systemic racism to undermine the enforcement of the rights of Indian families and tribes. Even when Indian custodians and tribes are able to protect their rights in court, their adversaries use those same advantages on appeal to attack the constitutional validity of the law. The primary goal of this Article is to help expose those structural issues and the ethically troublesome practices of adoption attorneys as the most important Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) case in history, Brackeen v. Haaland, reaches the Supreme Court.

Fletcher & Singel on Lawyering the Indian Child Welfare Act

Fletcher and Singel have posted “Lawyering the Indian Child Welfare Act,” forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review‘s upcoming symposium on civil rights lawyering. Here is the abstract:

This Essay describes how the statutory structure of child welfare laws enables lawyers and courts to exploit deep-seated stereotypes about American Indian people rooted in systemic racism to undermine the enforcement of the rights of Indian families and tribes. Even where Indian custodians and tribes are able to protect their rights in court, their adversaries use those same advantages on appeal to attack the Constitutional validity of the law. The primary goal of this Essay is to help expose those structural issues and the ethically troublesome practices of adoption attorneys as the most important ICWA case in history, Brackeen v. Haaland, reaches the Supreme Court.

Fletcher Book Review — ” Protectors: The Indian Trust and Killers of the Flower Moon”

My review of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon has been published in the Michigan Law Review. You can download the paper here or here.

An excerpt:

Killers of the Flower Moon will be an eye-opener for those who are not aware of what it means for the United States to shirk its duties to Indian people. Osage people alive today are direct victims of the Osage Reign of Terror (pp. 280–91). Grann’s book tells an interesting story about the early days of the FBI, the development of early criminal investigation techniques, and the slow death of frontier injustice and corruption. It is a story ripe for a suspenseful and entertaining film. But Killers of the Flower Moon could be so much more. For whatever reason—be it the fame of the author, the focus on major American historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover, or the fact that the FBI is investigating the current president—Grann’s work has the attention of much of the American public. Killers of the Flower Moon should be a call to action for the United States to take its duty of protection seriously, but instead the stories of real American Indian lives are a framing mechanism for a true-crime FBI story. Indian tribes standing against the political winds that threaten the trust relationship, the duty of protection the ancestors negotiated for in the nineteenth century, deserve more. The thousands of American Indian women who suffer sexual assaults every year and the thousands of American Indian children who witness and suffer violence every year deserve much more.

Continuing thanks to Wilson Pipestem and Alex Skibine.

Fletcher Review of David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Here is “Failed Protectors: The Indian Trust and Killers of the Flower Moon,” forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review.


This Review uses Killers of the Flower Moon as a jumping off point for highlighting for readers how so many Indian people in Indian country can be so easily victimized by criminals. And yet, for however horrible the Osage Reign of Terror, the reality for too many Indian people today is much much worse. The federal government is absolutely to blame for these conditions. This Review shows how policy choices made by all three branches of the federal government have failed Indian people. Part I establishes the federal-tribal trust relationship that originated with a duty of protection. Part II establishes how the United States failure to fulfill its duties to the Osage Nation and its citizens allowed and even indirectly encouraged the Osage Reign of Terror. Part III offers thoughts on the future of the trust relationship in light of the rise of tribal self-determination. Part IV concludes the Review with a warning about how modern crime rates against Indian women and children are outrageously high in large part because of the continuing failures of the United States.


Jessica Shoemaker on American Indian Property, Sovereignty, and the Future

Jessica Shoemaker has posted “Complexity’s Shadow: American Indian Property, Sovereignty, and the Future,” forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

This article offers a new perspective on the challenges of the modern American Indian land tenure system. While some property theorists have renewed focus on isolated aspects of Indian land tenure, including the historic inequities of colonial takings of Indian lands, this article argues that the complexity of today’s federally imposed reservation property system does much the same colonizing work that historic Indian land policies — from allotment to removal to termination — did overtly. But now these inequities are largely shadowed by the daunting complexity of the whole over-arching structure.

This article introduces a new taxonomy of complexity in American Indian land tenure and explores particularly how the recent trend of hyper-categorizing property and sovereignty interests into ever-more granular and interacting jurisdictional variables has exacerbated development and self-governance challenges in Indian Country. The entirety of this structural complexity serves no adequate purpose for Indian landowners or Indian nations and instead creates perverse incentives to grow the federal oversight role. Complexity begets more complexity, and this has created a self-perpetuating and inefficient cycle of federal control. However, stepping back and reviewing Indian land tenure as a system — a whole complex, dynamic, and ultimately adaptable system — actually introduces new and potentially fruitful management techniques borrowed from social and ecological sciences. Top-down Indian land reforms have consistently intensified complexity’s costs. This article explores how emphasizing grassroots experimentation and local flexibility instead can create critical space for reservation-by-reservation property system transformations into the future.

Fletcher, Fort, and Reo on “Tribal Disruption” Theory in the Michigan Law Review First Impressions

Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Kathryn E. Fort, and Dr. Nicholas J. Reo have published “Tribal Disruption and Indian Claims” in Michigan Law Review’s First Impressions. PDF. Here is a taste:

Legal claims are inherently disruptive. Plaintiffs’ suits invariably seek to unsettle the status quo. On occasion, the remedies to legal claims can be so disruptive-that is, impossible to enforce or implement in a fair and equitable manner-that courts simply will not issue them. In the area of federal Indian law, American Indian tribal claims not only disrupt the status quo but may even disrupt so-called settled expectations of those affected by the claims.[1] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has dismissed a round of Indian land claims at the pleading stage, including Onondaga Nation v. New York,[2] because it considered the claims so disruptive.

We agree that Indian legal claims are inherently disruptive and may implicate the centuries-old settled expectations of state and local governments and non-Indians. It is empirically and categorically false, however, that the remedies tribal interests seek are impossible to enforce or implement in a fair or equitable manner. Every year in cases against state governments and their political subdivisions, Indian tribes settle long-standing claims that at their outset, often appear intractable, if not downright impossible, to remedy. The recent settlements of claims by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York,[3] the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe,[4] and five Michigan Anishinaabe tribes[5] demonstrate the falsehood of the idea that Indian claims are too disruptive to be remedied. These negotiated settlements powerfully illustrate that the disruption produced by Indian claims has an important function: forcing federal, state, and tribal governments to creatively seek solutions to difficult governance issues in Indian country.

Part I of this Essay describes recent common law, which dismisses Indian claims on the grounds that they are too disruptive. Part II briefly surveys the history of the relationship between Indians and the United States. Part III describes recent settlements between tribal and local governments. Part IV presents our theory of tribal disruption based on notions of ecological disturbance, studied in ecology and related fields. We argue that ecological disturbance in linked social-­ecological systems offers a useful analog to the disruptive nature of Indian claims. These claims can be compared to disturbances in rivers, forests, or other ecosystems. Floods, forest fires, and windstorms break down existing structures, allowing space for reorganization, diversification, and new growth. Tribal claims similarly clear out a legal space for creative and improved governance institutions.

Carole Goldberg on D’arcy McNickle’s “The Surrounded”

Carole Goldberg has published a review of the classic novel by D’Arcy McNickle, “The Surrounded,” in the Michigan Law Review’s annual Survey of Books Related to the Law. The PDF is here: A Native Vision of Justice.

A synopsis:

Although largely unheralded in its time, D’Arcy McNickle’s The Surrounded has become a classic of Native American literature. When the University of New Mexico Press reissued the book in 1978, a year after McNickle’s death, the director of Chicago’s Newberry Library, Lawrence W. Towner, predicted (correctly) that it would “reach a far wider audience.” Within The Surrounded are early stirrings of a literary movement that took flight several decades after the novel’s first publication in the writings of N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gerald Vizenor, among others. All of these Native American authors share with McNickle a desire to present, from a Native perspective, the challenges of establishing identity and sustaining community in a world where indigenous societies must contend with powerful forces of colonization and modernity. Literary critics have offered sharply differing interpretations of the ultimate message The Surrounded conveys about the future of indigenous peoples. Some view the novel as a statement of despair, while others discern McNickle’s confidence in the strength of Native cultures and their capacity for renewal. There is broad consensus, however, that The Surrounded is a seminal work.

What the literary critics have largely overlooked is the novel’s pointed analysis and critique of criminal justice in Indian country. Much of the novel’s plot is driven by acts viewed as criminal by the dominant, non-Native social order. The protagonist, Archilde Leon, returns home to the Flathead Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana, hoping to say a last farewell to his family before making his way as a fiddler in the cities. His relationship with both parents has become strained, following his education in the local Catholic mission school and in a federal Indian boarding school. For different reasons, neither parent wanted him to pursue his ambition of making his way far from home in a big city. Greeting him is news that his older brother, Louis, is hiding in the mountains, accused of stealing horses-conduct outlawed by the local authorities but long carried out by the Salish against their enemies. Archilde’s non-Indian father is so displeased with Louis’s behavior that he has disassociated himself from the other members of his family, living apart from his Salish wife, Catharine, and refusing all contact with Louis. At first, Archilde also feels alienated from the more traditional Salish ways that Catharine, his mother, still practices, despite her long-ago conversion to Catholicism. But as he develops greater appreciation for his mother-through feasts and Salish stories told in his honor by the blind elder, Old Modeste-Archilde agrees to accompany her on one last hunting trip into the snowy mountains. There they first encounter the hostile local sheriff, Sheriff Quigley, and later are surprised to discover Louis. Louis proceeds to shoot a young, female deer. When the local game warden comes upon the group and accuses Louis of violating state game laws, there is a confrontation, and the warden mistakenly believes Louis is about to shoot him. The warden fires his gun, killing Louis, and a furious Catharine steals behind the warden and fells him with a hatchet.

On Federal Juries and American Indian Defendants

Commentators (for example, here and here) have been noting in response to Grassley’s concern that white male perpetrators will not benefit from a jury of their peers in tribal courts that Indian defendants (almost) never stand trial before federal juries with American Indians in the jury box. Let us not forget ASIA Kevin Washburn’s Michigan Law Review article from a few years back that made that perfectly clear. He wrote:

Despite the normative principle of representativeness, Indians tend not to be well represented in federal juries in Indian country cases. Even in states with large Indian populations, Indians remain a very small fraction of the population. As a result, Indians would be expected to have minimal representation in the jury venire. However, the statistics indicate lower numbers than one would expect.

Michigan Law Review Note on Uncounseled Tribal Court Convictions

Christiana M. Martenson has published “Uncounseled Tribal Court Guilty Pleas in State and Federal Courts: Individual Rights Versus Tribal Self-Governance” (PDF) in the Michigan Law Review. Here is the abstract:

Indian tribes in the United States are separate sovereigns with inherent self-governing authority. As a result, the Bill of Rights does not directly bind the tribes, and criminal defendants in tribal courts do not enjoy the protection of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In United States v. Ant, a defendant—without the legal assistance that a state or federal court would have provided—pled guilty to criminal charges in tribal court. Subsequently, the defendant faced federal charges arising out of the same events that led to the tribal prosecution. The Ninth Circuit in Ant barred the federal prosecutor from using the defendant’s prior uncounseled tribal court guilty plea as evidence in the federal proceeding, explaining that doing so would violate the Sixth Amendment. This Note argues that Ant is no longer good law. First, Ant’s legal foundation is weak, especially in light of subsequent developments in Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. Second, Ant is poor policy because excluding tribal court guilty pleas from state and federal proceedings undermines tribal self-governance. Even though governments must protect the rights of individual criminal defendants, supporting tribal authority will ultimately lead to decreased violence on Indian land and increased consistency with federal legislation.