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Pierre v. Norton

July 31, 2007

CECILIA ST. PIERRE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GALE A. NORTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, Cecilia St. Pierre and Leonard L. Prescott, are members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton (Dakota) Sioux Community ("SMSC", "Tribe" or "Community"). Defendants are Gale A. Norton, Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and David Anderson, Assistant Secretary -- Indian Affairs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") of the United States Department of the Interior ("DOI"). Plaintiffs bring suit under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, challenging Defendants' decisions and actions with respect to the Tribe's membership.

This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint ("Defendants' Motion"), [#24]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiffs are individual members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton (Dakota) Sioux Community ("SMSC"), an Indian tribe federally recognized under the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 461-479. The SMSC controls the Mystic Lake Casino, which is "one of the largest gambling venues in the United States." Pls.' Second Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶ 16. In this lawsuit, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' actions "allowed unqualified [Tribe] members to illegally gain control of the Community and the substantial gaming revenues of the Community." Id. at 2.

Plaintiffs allege that in 1991, in an election in which unqualified individuals were wrongly allowed to vote, Stanley Crooks was elected Chairman of the Tribe. Id. ¶ 16. According to Plaintiffs, from this time forward, "Mr. Crooks and his allies embarked on an illegal and unconstitutional scheme to wrest control of the Community from the majority of the true Mdewakanton Sioux and to take control of the Community's gaming resources." Id. ¶ 18.

Plaintiffs' claims stem from a dispute regarding the interpretation of two provisions of the Tribe's Constitution. The first, Article II, Section 1, provides that members of the Tribe shall consist of:

(a) All persons of Mdewakanton Sioux Indian blood, not members of any other Indian tribe, band or group, whose names appear on the 1969 census roll of Mdewakanton Sioux residents of the Prior Lake Reservation, Minnesota, prepared specifically for the purpose of organizing the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

(b) All children of at least one-fourth (1/4) degree Mdewakanton Sioux Indian blood born to an enrolled member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

(c) All descendants of at least one fourth (1/4) degree Mdewakanton Sioux Indian blood who can trace their Mdewakanton Sioux Indian blood to the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians who resided in Minnesota on May 20, 1886, Provided, they apply for membership and are found qualified by the governing body, and provided further, they are not enrolled as members of some other tribe or band of Indians.

Id. ¶ 7.

The second provision, Article II, Section 2, provides that the General Council "shall have power to pass resolutions or ordinances, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, governing future membership, adoptions and loss of membership." Defs.' Ex. A at 1; see Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiffs' position is that adoption ordinances, which have been passed under this section, may not eliminate the 1/4 degree blood quantum requirement contained in Article II, Section I.

In 1993 the SMSC, led by Crooks, passed an adoption ordinance under Article II, Section 2 which attempted to eliminate the 1/4 degree blood quantum requirement for membership in the Tribe. Compl. ¶ 19 ("First Adoption Ordinance"). The BIA disapproved the ordinance and it never became effective. Id. ¶ 20.

On November 30, 1993, the SMSC enacted a second adoption ordinance ("Second Adoption Ordinance") which also attempted to eliminate the 1/4 degree blood quantum requirement. Again, it was submitted to the BIA and disapproved. Id. ¶ 21. Crooks appealed this decision, and in February 1995, an administrative law judge of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals ("IBIA") reversed the Area Director's disapproval of the Second Adoption Ordinance and remanded with instructions to the Area Director to approve it. Id. ¶ 22.

In that litigation, the SMSC and the BIA disagreed as to whether an adoption ordinance passed under Article II, Section II of the tribal Constitution could eliminate the 1/4 degree blood quantum requirement. The administrative law judge of the IBIA reasoned that since both the SMSC's and the BIA's interpretations of the tribal Constitution were reasonable, deference should be given to the SMSC's interpretation under the "rule requiring deference to the tribe's interpretation of its own laws," especially on matters related to tribal membership. Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community v. Acting Minneapolis Area Director, BIA, 27 IBIA 163, 171-72 (1995). Plaintiffs were not permitted to intervene in that appeal.

In July 1996, Plaintiff St. Pierre and her sister Winifred Feezor filed suit in this Court challenging, among other things, the IBIA's approval of the Second Adoption Ordinance. Feezor v. Babbitt, 953 F. Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1996). Judge James Robertson remanded the case to the DOI for supplementation of the administrative record on certain issues, one of which was why the IBIA decision overturning the Area ...


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