ProtectingTribal SovereignImmunity The challenges and opportunities ahead
Suppose a federal employee began drinking at work on federal property and caused an accident on his way home.
The United States and the 50 states have laws and regulations protecting their sovereign status and ability to be sued.
This is a right of the sovereign that goes back to the days of kings.
Indian nations, as sovereigns, possess the same sovereign immunity from suit that federal and state governments possess.
Recently, within the past two years, the Supreme Court has limited tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction vis-à-vis non-Indians.
federal property This challenge may also represent an opportunity that can be addressed through the use of risk management,
Native peoples are the original inhabitants of the Americas, endowed by our creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of our ways of life.
From the beginning of time, our grandmothers and grandfathers founded our nations’ tribal governments to preserve our native rights,
safeguard our rights to freedom and liberty, and exercise self-government to protect native lands, culture and future generations.
federal property When Europeans first landed on American shores, they sought out Native Americans for advice, friendship, and to secure permission to live in America.
The Dutch came to New Netherlands (now New York) in 1609 under orders to negotiate with tribes for land.
“When European colonial powers began to explore and colonize this land, they entered into treaties with sovereign Indian nations.
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Our new nation continued to make treaties and to deal with Indian tribes on a government-to-government basis.
In the bigger picture, there are looming challenges to tribal sovereign immunity, especially in cases involving tort liability to third parties arising in the commercial context.
Often the challenges to tribal sovereign immunity arise in cases where smalldollar claims are at issue—$25,000 in some cases.
The Supreme Court explained: “There are reasons to doubt the wisdom of perpetuating the doctrine (i.e., tribal sovereignty)…
This is evident when tribes take part in the nation’s commerce.
Tribal enterprises now include ski resorts, gambling, and sales of cigarettes to non-Indians… In this economic context, immunity can harm those who are unaware that they are dealing with a tribe.”
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