The South Dakota Office of Hearing Examiners affirmed last month that the Oglala Sioux Tribe could not be required to pay the City of Martin’s legal fees to receive public records. Unfortunately, in that same decision, the examiner failed to protect the Tribe’s sovereign immunity.

That’s why the Tribe, represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), ACLU of South Dakota, and Public Counsel, is appealing the examiners’ decision.

The appeal to the Office of Hearing Examiners stems from a dispute the Tribe had with the City of Martin. The city wanted the Tribe to pay an unknown amount of exorbitant attorney and administrative fees or waive its sovereign tribal immunity in order to receive public records. While the examiners’ decision last month found the Tribe’s request to be reasonable and required the city to calculate costs according to a set fee schedule, it mistakenly approved the city’s demand that the Tribe either pre-pay estimated costs or waive tribal sovereign immunity. This requirement is contrary to public records laws.

By not recognizing and protecting tribal sovereignty, the examiners’ decision sets a dangerous precedent of penalizing Tribes by imposing additional requirements on them that no other entity or person is subject to under South Dakota law.

“Tribal sovereign immunity is based in the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments. Tribes cannot be forced to waive their own immunity. NARF stands by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in its commitment to protect its tribal sovereign immunity with this appeal,” said NARF Staff Attorney Samantha Kelty.

More About the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Public Records’ Request

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