Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
May 25, 2001


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Press/ON celebrates thirteenth anniversary:

Bringing people news, challenging myths, and providing a public forum for open discussion of issues relevant to the community


Press/ON celebrates thirteenth anniversary: Bringing people news, challenging myths, and providing a public forum for open discussion of issues relevant to the community

It is satisfying to note that this edition of Press/ON concludes thirteen years of continuous publication, and begins our fourteenth year. I am proud of the fact that we have been able to give a voice to the people so that they can express their views, and to present accurate information so that they can make informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. Hopefully, we have helped to make the Native community a better place to live, work and play. I am most gratified that we have been able to do this on our own-- without having to accept funding from any government or foundation sources. Press/ON has remained independent, and as far as we know, we are the only independently-owned weekly Native newspaper in the country.

We want to thank those of you who have supported and worked with us over the years, and look forward to an interesting and ever-changing future. Without your support, this would not have been possible.

Mille Lacs tribal court: As this issue goes to press on Thursday, May 24, reporter Jeff Armstrong and I are to appear in the Mille Lacs tribal court, pursuant to U.S. Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson's order to "exhaust tribal remedies." Press/ON has been in federal court on this matter since December 1998; reporter Jeff Armstrong was illegally arrested and detained by Mille Lacs tribal police while covering a public meeting of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe in October 1997.

We intend to challenge the jurisdiction of the Mille Lacs tribal court: there is no constitutional basis for the establishment of a tribal court at Mille Lacs. It may legitimately provide a forum for dispute resolution between consenting adults who are also Mille Lacs tribal members--but it is not legally a "court of law," and it cannot exercise general jurisdiction. Department of the Interior Solicitors' opinions over the past twenty years have repeatedly stated that Mille Lacs and other bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe do not have the authority to establish a tribal court. For example, William Lavell, Associate Solicitor, wrote on December 21, 1990 (with reference to a child custody case subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act) that there were "two bases" for vesting authority: the first deriving from the federal government's delegation under 25 CFR part 11, and the second from direct and explicit federal delegation of its authority. As Lavell writes, "the tribal governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and its bands were not vested with such powers by the tribal constitution ... Therefore, absent a constitutional amendment, the governing bodies have no authority which they can delegate" to tribal courts.

The sole conflicting opinion was written in 1994 by a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Michael J. Anderson, who has done extensive legal work for Indian tribes in Minnesota. Anderson rested his opinion on "general principles" rather than on "any of the many technical arguments." He wrote his opinion shortly before he left office to pursue his legal career in Minnesota.

The Mille Lacs tribal court is unique. None of the other reservations of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, except Bois Forte, have tribal courts. State jurisdiction under Public Law 280 was retroceded at Bois Forte; there has been no such retrocession at Mille Lacs. Even with retroceded state authority, it is still questionable whether even the Bois Forte band legitimately has the authority to establish a tribal court.

More tribal (and State) injustice: And, the legal abuses continue. In Beltrami County this week, Jawnie Hough was more-or-less acquitted of state criminal charges stemming from an ex parte Red Lake tribal court order. Those charges should have been summarily dismissed, rather than compelling Ms. Hough to appear in court.

Furthermore, the state of Minnesota should have never accepted the Red Lake tribal court's reversal of a state custody determination--particularly in ex parte legal action. And, Ms. Hough's public defender, Kristine Kolar, should have acknowledged the conflict of interest presented by her husband David Harrington's position as Red Lake tribal attorney, and proactively worked to find another attorney for Jawnie Hough.

As tribal councils--and their in-pocket tribal-courts--become more powerful with gambling revenues, the problems with abuses of due process and flagrant violations of civil rights in tribal courts are quite likely to keep on getting worse. Press/ON has published several articles during the past few months reporting ongoing attempts by tribal councils and their courts to broaden their jurisdiction. The problem is aggravated by the lack of appellate courts in the "Indian" system: civil rights, proper procedure and other constitutionally-protected legal rights are not sustained by reasonable processes of appeal for aggrieved parties.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota needs to provide specific formal rules that require those entering tribal court decisions into State jurisdiction to prove that all parties were afforded due process and to certify that the legal and civil rights of all parties were properly respected and protected.


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