Nebraska v. Parker a Win for Omaha Tribe & Indian Country


“The Supreme Court’s decision in Nebraska v. Parker is a huge win for Indian country.”

That was the statement from Tim Purdon, partner at Robins Kaplan LLP and former United States Attorney General for the District of North Dakota, following the unanimous decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas on March 22 that was in favor of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.

RELATED: Omaha Tribe Wins Unanimous Decision at SCOTUS

The decision ruled that an 1882 Act of Congress did not diminish the tribe’s reservation and upholds the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Following the decision, the National Congress of American Indians also shared statements in an e-mail. “The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the Omaha Tribe’s reservation lands which were established by treaties is a substantial victory for Indian country,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said. “The ruling in Nebraska v. Parker reaffirms long settled legal precedent protecting reservation lands from erroneous claims of diminishment. It also provides tribes with additional certainty when exercising jurisdiction, self-governance, and self-determination over their lands.”

The case originally arose in 2004 following the tribe’s enactment of an alcohol beverage control ordinance regulating and taxing the sale of alcohol within the boundaries of its reservation as reported by ICTMN yesterday. When the tribe proceeded to notify the seven liquor stores located in the town of Pender that they would have to pay tribal licensing fees and a 10 percent liquor tax to continue to operate, the town and liquor stores sued the tribe in federal court in 2007.

John Echohawk, Executive Director of Native American Rights Fund, said, “I congratulate the Omaha Tribe and its attorneys on [Tuesday’s] unanimous decision. Every judge that heard this case, from the District Court all the way to the United States Supreme Court, has affirmed and followed long-standing legal rules protecting reservation lands. This tribe’s hard-won victory is also an important win for Indian country.”

According to an NCAI release, at issue in the case is whether the 1882 Act of Congress, which opened the western end of the Omaha Tribe’s reservation to settlement, diminished the boundaries of the reservation or opened the land to settlement while keeping the reservation intact.

Justice Thomas writing for the unanimous Court held that “[t]he 1882 Act bore none of [the] hallmarks of diminishment ... [and] it is clear that the 1882 Act falls into another category of surplus land Acts: those that ‘merely opened reservation land to settlement and provided that the uncertain future proceeds of settler purchases should be applied to the Indians’ benefit.’”

“Few issues in Indian country are as important to tribes as the protection of their historical reservation boundaries. The fact that this unanimous 8-0 ruling reinforced the test that crystal clear Congressional intent is necessary for a finding that a reservation has been diminished will be heartening to tribes across the country,” Purdon said in an e-mail.

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