Native American Press / Ojibwe News

Photo of Southgate Office Building, Bloomington

photos: Clara NiiSka
Offices of the Prairie Island, Lower Sioux, etc. tribal courts – at the law offices of BlueDog, Olson, and Small, 5001 West 80th in the south Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota.
 
The vacant receptionist’s chair at these tribal attorneys’ offices (above) may provide all the assistance available from the “clerk of courts” at these fee-for-services “tribal courts.”
 
The law offices are located in the high-rise Southgate Office Plaza (below), just off of I-494.  “So much for retaining Indian heritage and culture,” commented one long-time observer of Indian tribal courts.  “It’s hard to imagine how they can claim sovereignty while their courts are headquartered in another jurisdiction, in the case of Lower Sioux more than ninety miles from the reservation, and in the case of Prairie Island more than thirty miles ‘as the crow flies.’

Apparently the convenience of the tribal attorneys/judges is more important to the lawyers than the needs of the tribal members and others who are subject to the court.”


Tribal attorneys running tribal courts:
  are Indians contracting for banal ‘third world’ bureaucracies?

by Clara NiiSka

Marcella Blue Stone, Harvey Owns, and Lawrence Larson have been wrangling with the Prairie Island tribal court since November 1999 over tribal enrollment, and, eighteen months after their case was finally heard, the three elders are still waiting for the tribal court to make its decision.

As Press/ON reported last February, Marcella Blue Stone, at that time age 78, was born at Prairie Island when it was still Strom’s Crossing whistle-stop, the daughter of the first I.R.A. tribal chairman at Prairie Island, Walter Jesse Leith.  She is listed on the I.R.A. “base rolls” at Prairie Island – one of those Indians whose 1934 membership influenced the federal government’s determination that the Prairie Island community is “federally recognized.”  Larson is her son.

Harvey Owens, the third litigant in this enrollment case, was also born at Prairie Island, the son of Julia W. Owens, a “fullblood” on the base rolls, and the full brother of renowned Prairie Island spiritual leader Amos Owens.  According to Owens, Bluestone, and Larson’s attorney, Gary Montana, Harvey Owens was not listed on the 1934 B.I.A. census because he was working at the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) camps.  He later joined the army, and is reportedly a “decorated World War II veteran.”

While researching the articles published last February, this writer sought copies of relevant court records from the Prairie Island tribal court.  Court administrator Carrie Blaesener refused to release the records, explaining that, “You can appreciate the tribe’s position.  Due to the nature of the case, those records are not public.”

Tribal attorney/tribal court judge Henry Buffalo subsequently assured the Supreme Court Rules Committee that tribal court records were “public information,” during that committee’s hearings on a proposed rule to grant “full faith and credit” to almost every tribal court “judgment, decree, order, subpoena, record, or other judicial act …”  After months of hearings, including testimony by concerned people from several reservations, the Supreme Court Rules Committee unanimously rejected the proposed ‘full faith and credit’ rule at its August 14th meeting.  Press/ON assumes, however, that Buffalo would not have spoken falsely to the Minnesota Supreme Court and that therefore his statement that tribal court records are public records is a true statement.  A number of other tribal court judges and tribal attorneys, including Andrew Small, were present at the hearing when Buffalo assured the Minnesota Supreme Court that tribal court records are public records, and none of them contradicted Buffalo.

Armed with a notarized affidavit from one of the parties to the case authorizing release of the court records, Press/ON attempted to obtain a copy of the Prairie Island court records.  The offices of the clerk of court, we learned, are not on the reservation, but rather at the law offices of BlueDog, Olson and Small, in the high-rise Southgate Office Plaza, 5001 West 80th Street, south suburban Minneapolis.

On their web page at http://www.boslaw.com, the law firm advertises that, “We represent several tribal gaming operations, including some of the largest operations in the States of Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota.  In the capacity of legal counsel to tribal gaming operations, we have dealt with virtually every aspect of the gaming business.  Members of our firm advise tribal businesses on a wide variety of issues, as noted above, and we have served as general counsel to virtually every aspect of tribal business, governmental and regulatory operations.”  BlueDog, Olson and Small (BO&S) also provides tribal court services to the Prairie Island and Lower Sioux Indian communities, and one of the partners, Andrew M. Small, although not licensed to practice law in Minnesota, “has been admitted to practice in ten Tribal jurisdictions throughout Indian country.”

Press/ON’s request for the court records at the tribal attorney/tribal court office was tape-recorded:

Press/ON: Hi, you’re the clerk of courts? …

BO&S: Hi, no, I can get her for you though

Press/ON: Would you please … thank you

[wait]

Press/ON: Hello, are you the …

BO&S: Hi!

Press/ON: Ahh…

BO&S: Carrie

Press/ON: Carrie Blaisvig, or …

BO&S: Blaesner

Press/ON: Blaesner.

BO&S: Yes.

Press/ON: My name’s Clara NiiSka.  I write for the Native American Press, I’ve talked to you a couple of times

BO&S: Uh-hunh

Press/ON: The reason I’m down here is because Henry Buffalo assured the Supreme Court Rules Committee that tribal court records were open.  I have a release from a party who’s involved with a lawsuit … with the Prairie Island tribal council involving enrollment.  I’d like a copy of the court records.

BO&S: [silence] do you have the original?

Press/ON: It was faxed to me.  According to Minnesota rules, a photocopy of a notarized thing like that is just as good as the original.

BO&S: Okay.  Aaah, give me a moment.

Press/ON: Okay …

[wait for at least 15 minutes]

BO&S: I’m going to have to send those out to you, I can’t … them while you’re here, I’ve got [unintelligible] I need to prepare for, it’s an extensive file.  Copies are fifteen cents a page.  I can call you when it’s ready or I can send it out to you.

Press/ON: Why don’t you put a … when will it be ready?

BO&S: I have court all afternoon today, um, I’d like to say I’ll be able to do it tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee it

Press/ON: I mean, he’s been waiting for [more than] a year for the decision, so I don’t want to wait for a year for the records

BO&S: Well, his attorney, Mr. Montana, has copies of everything as well

Press/ON: right, but I’m asking the court for them because I was told that they are public records

BO&S: They are, but like every court file it needs to be purged and … I mean, there are certain in documents in there that are … notes and such, that … the file needs to be purged and copies need to be made, I can’t do that today.  If you would have called … I’m ready and willing to comply with your request, but I can’t get it done today

Press/ON: Ok, so when do you think they’ll be ready?

BO&S: Like I said, I have court all afternoon today, ah, hopefully I could get to it tomorrow or the next day, but I’ve got other pressing issues I need to attend to as well (laugh) so …

Press/ON: So, I’m asking you, when do you think they’ll be ready?

BO&S: Perhaps by the end of the week

Press/ON: Ok, so I can come get them Friday morning?

BO&S: I can call you and tell you when they’ll be ready.

Press/ON: How about I come get them Friday morning, would that work for you?

BO&S: Sure.

Press/ON: Okay.  How many pages, about how much am I going to owe you?

BO&S: You know, it’s a pretty extensive file, so … I can call you and tell you how much it’s going to be

Press/ON: A hundred bucks … fifty bucks … ?

BO&S: I really can’t add it up in my head right now (laugh)

Press/ON: Is it like this thick [gestures], or is it like this thick [gestures] …

BO&S: Well, it’s the trial court and the appeal court file …

Press/ON: Okay

BO&S: Um … I can’t even add them up.  I can call you and tell you how many pages it is before I …

Press/ON: … well why don’t you just copy them, and I’ll just sort of take a chance that I owe you a hundred bucks

BO&S: Okay … okay, I’ll have those for you Friday, there’ll probably be a fair-[sized] pile

Press/ON: Okay.   My name’s Clara … I think I already told you.  N-i-i-S-k-a. 

BO&S: Okay.

Press/ON: I also, at one point, asked you for a copy of the tribal code for the reservations that you folks serve as tribal court for.  And, at that point you told me you didn’t know how big the tribal code was, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

BO&S: Okay. [unintelligible]

Press/ON returned to the Southgate office building, which houses the Prairie Island and Lower Sioux clerk of courts on August 22nd, intending to get the requested court records.

Clerk of courts Carrie Blaesener was unavailable, “in court” BO&S staff person Toni Alcantar told Press/ON.  Alcantar would not provide any information as to whether or not the “extensive” files had been copied, when Blaeser would be available, nor what the charges for the photocopied records would be.

After some discussion, Alcantar told Press/ON that we would have to telephone Blaesener and “make an appointment to pick up the records.”

At press time, neither Blaesener nor Andrew Small had returned Press/ON’s phone calls, and Press/ON has not yet obtained a copy of those ‘public’ tribal court records.

And, nearly three years after they began trying to get their tribal enrollment straightened out, Marcella Blue Stone, Harvey Owns, and Lawrence Larson are still waiting for the Prairie Island tribal court to rule – one way or the other – in their enrollment case.  Larson has described the long delay as the tribal establishment’s “waiting for us to die.”


Clerks of Courts




 
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