Here is the decision. sp7628
The facts of this case were a little unusual, where a foster family attempted to have a child in their care made a member of one tribe when he was already a citizen of another. The holdings, however, are useful both for clarity in the regulations for the determination of an Indian child’s tribe, and for keeping state courts out of tribal citizenship decisions.
Court decisions reflect the same rule of deference to the tribe’s exercise of control over its own membership. The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized tribes’ “inherent power to determine tribal membership.” In John v. Baker we recognized that “the Supreme Court has articulated a core set of [tribes’] sovereign powers that remain intact [unless federal law provides otherwise]; in particular, internal functions involving tribal membership and domestic affairs lie within a tribe’s retained inherent sovereign powers.” We have also “long recognized that sovereign powers exist unless divested,” and “ ‘the principle that Indian tribes are sovereign, self-governing entities’ governs ‘all cases where essential tribal relations or rights of Indians are involved.’ ”
Chignik Lagoon’s argument would require state courts to independently interpret tribal constitutions and other sources of law and substitute their own judgment on questions of tribal membership. This argument is directly contrary to the directive of 25 C.F.R. § 23.108.
The Indian Law Clinic at MSU College of Law provided research and technical assistance to the Village of Wales in this case.