United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
ENROLLED MEMBERS OF THE BLACKFEET TRIBE aka Treaty Status Indians; RICHARD HORN; DUANE MANY HIDES; ROY INGRAM; ERNEST OLSEN; LARRY M. REEVIS, Plaintiffs,
THEDUS CROWE; KEVIN K. WASHBURN; SALLEY JEWELL; and BARACK OBAMA, Defendants.
ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Morris United States District Court Judge.
Richard Horn, Duane Many Hides, Roy Ingram, Ernest Olsen and
Larry M. Reevis (“Plaintiffs”) challenge the
integrity of the Blackfeet Water Compact that was executed by
the Blackfeet Tribe, the State of Montana, and the United
States. (Docs. 1, 11-15, 29). Plaintiffs allege that the
Blackfeet Water Compact was invalid for the following
reasons: (1) the Blackfeet Tribe Business Council lacked
authority under tribal law to negotiate and ratify the
Compact on behalf of the Blackfeet Tribe; and (2) the
referendum election through which the Tribal membership
adopted the Compact violated Article IX of the Blackfeet
Constitution, given that less than one-third of the eligible
voters of the Blackfeet Tribe voted in the election. (Doc. 29
seek injunctive relief, monetary relief and mandamus relief.
Plaintiffs request that the Court transfer “legal title
to all natural resources on . . . the Blackfeet Indian
[R]eservation” to the Plaintiffs. (Doc. 1 at 2).
Plaintiffs requested that the Court stop the “illegal
disposition of the Blackfeet tribal property.”
Id. Plaintiffs also request that the Court prohibit
the state of Montana “from exercising adjudicatory
jurisdiction over the Blackfeet Indian [R]eservation and
Blackfeet [T]ribal Water Rights(s).” Id.
Plaintiffs request that the Court grant them “[t]itle
to all water ways originating or passing through the
Blackfeet Indian [R]eservation, ” and seek
“compensatory . . . damages for the illegal capture and
utilization of . . . Tribal Water Right[s].” (Doc. 1 at
States Magistrate Judge John Johnston entered Findings and
Recommendations in this matter on September 5th, 2018. (Doc.
43). Judge Johnston recommended that Plaintiff's
“Motion for Appointment of Counsel” be denied.
Id. at 8. Judge Johnston further recommended
Defendant's “Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs'
Amended Complaint” be granted. Id.
Court reviews de novo Findings and Recommendations timely
objected to. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court reviews
for clear error the portions of the Findings and
Recommendations not specifically objected to. McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d
1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). Where a party's objections
constitute perfunctory responses argued in an attempt to
engage the district court in a rehashing of the same
arguments set forth in the original response, however, the
Court will review the applicable portions of the findings and
recommendations for clear error. Rosling v.
Kirkegard, 2014 WL 693315 *3 (D. Mont. Feb. 21, 2014)
(internal citations omitted).
timely filed objections to Magistrate Judge Johnston's
Findings and Recommendations. (Docs. 47, 48, 51). These
objections attempt to engage the Court in a debate of the
same arguments that Judge Johnston addressed in the Findings
and Recommendations (Doc. 43). Plaintiffs' objections
simply restate what Judge Johnston already addressed and the
Court finds no clear error in Judge Johnston's Findings
and Recommendations. Id.
claims asserted by Plaintiffs have their genesis in an
intra-tribal dispute. Plaintiffs seek to have the Blackfeet
Water Compact declared invalid and unenforceable. Plaintiffs
allege that the Compact is invalid and unenforceable because
the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council lacked authority under
tribal law to negotiate and ratify the Blackfeet Water
Compact, and because the referendum election through which
the Tribal membership adopted the Compact violated Article IX
of the Blackfeet Constitution. (Doc. 29 at 2-3).
Plaintiffs' claims are grounded in Blackfeet tribal law
and the Blackfeet Constitution. Resolution of Plaintiffs'
claims necessarily would require the Court to interpret
Blackfeet tribal law and the Blackfeet Constitution. Federal
courts lack jurisdiction to resolve intra-tribal disputes
that require the court to interpret tribal law or a tribal
constitution. See Kaw Nation ex rel. McCauley v.
Lujan, 378 F.3d 1139, 1143 (10th Cir. 2004) (federal
courts lack jurisdiction over intra-tribal disputes because
disputes over the meaning of tribal law do not arise under
the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States).
election disputes represent intra-tribal matters. Federal
courts lack jurisdiction over tribal election disputes that
require interpretation of tribal law or a tribal constitution
to resolve. See Goodface v. Grassrope, 708 F.2d 335,
339 (8th Cir. 1983); U.S. Bancorp v. Ike, 171
F.Supp.2d 1122, 1125 (D. Nev. 2001) (citing cases).
continue to argue that the federal courts actively ignore
“the Pikuni People and what's left of their
Nation.” (Doc. 51). Plaintiffs dismiss Judge
Johnston's findings and the “so called Court
Decisions” cited and ask this Court for “respect
and enforcement of the Law.” Id. Respect is
what Judge Johnston's findings do. If the federal courts
were to begin interpreting tribal law and tribal
constitutions, the result effectively would destroy tribal
sovereignty. This result would open the floodgates and allow
the federal courts and non-Indian judges the ability to
interpret and decide tribal disputes that potentially could
involve tribal culture. Out of respect for tribal people and
sovereignty, this Court cannot open that gate.
federal government has a longstanding policy of encouraging
tribal self-government. See Iowa Mut. Ins. Co. v.
LaPlante, 480 U.S. 9, 14 (1987). Indian tribes possess
inherent and exclusive power over matters of internal tribal
governance. See Nero v. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,
892 F.2d 1457, 1463 (10th Cir. 1989); Goodface, 708
F.2d at 339. An Indian tribe's right to conduct an
election without federal interference proves essential to the
tribe's right to self-government. Wheeler v.
Swimmer, 835 F.2d 259, 262 (10th Cir. 1987).
Blackfeet Tribal Court represents the proper forum for
Plaintiffs to challenge the validity of the Blackfeet Water
Compact and the related tribal referendum election. See
Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Election Bd.
v. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 439 F.3d 832, 835 (8th Cir.
2006). This Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiffs'
Court has reviewed de novo those parts of Judge
Johnston's Findings and Recommendations to which
Plaintiffs objected to. The Court has reviewed for clear
error the remaining portions of Judge Johnston's Findings
and Recommendations. The Court finds no error in ...