• Non-Indian Subject To Tribal Jurisdiction, Says Ninth Circuit
  • June 15, 2009 | Author: Rob Roy Smith
  • Law Firm: Ater Wynne LLP - Seattle Office
  • On May 14, 2009, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Elliott v. White Mountain Apache Tribe reaffirmed that non-Indian litigants must exhaust available Indian tribal court remedies before pursuing an action in Federal court to challenge the Tribe's jurisdiction. 

    In so holding, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Tribe had "plausible" jurisdiction to enforce against a non-Indian tribal regulations that prohibit, among other things, trespassing onto tribal lands, setting a fire without a permit on tribal lands, and destroying natural resources on tribal lands.  The Court placed particular importance on the fact that the Tribe was the landowner and suggested that the Tribe had jurisdiction because the non-Indian's actions (setting a fire that destroyed millions of dollars' worth of natural resources) affected the Tribe's political and economic well-being. 

    The decison is an important reminder that Indian tribes retain jurisdiction to enforce Tribal laws on Tribal lands, and that non-Indians must defend actions brought against them in Tribal Court.