In another victory for tribal sovereignty, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling today that affirmed tribal sovereign immunity from suit and held that the same immunity applied to tribes as sovereigns may extend to a tribe’s college as an “arm of the tribe.”

In today’s ruling in McCoy v. Salish Kootenai College, the court held that Salish Kootenai College is entitled to sovereign immunity from suit as an “arm of the tribe.” To make this determination, the court points to the fact that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation has significant control over the college and the college is “structured and operates for the benefit” of the Tribe. Thus, the College’s structure, purpose, and financial relation to the Tribe prove it to be an “arm of the tribe.”

In this case, NARF represented the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) as an amicus curiae party in support of the Salish Kootenai College and Tribes. Because this was the first time the issue of tribal colleges’ right to assert tribal sovereign immunity from suit had come before federal courts, AIHEC wanted to participate on behalf of its 36 member tribal colleges and universities.

AIHEC logoAIHEC President Carrie Billy reacted to today’s decision, “Some time ago AIHEC asked NARF to assist us in the unusual move of preparing and submitting an amicus brief to a federal district court case regarding whether a tribe’s sovereign immunity from suit applied to a tribal college in an employment related suit. NARF prepared an excellent and persuasive brief, and was even permitted by the district court judge to participate in the oral argument where the judge had specific questions about tribal colleges generally. The district court ruled in the tribal college’s favor, very clearly explaining the criteria for determining why and when a tribe’s sovereign immunity from suit extends to a tribal college or university. Today, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court decision, reiterating the criteria for assessing whether a tribal college is entitled to a tribe’s immunity. Today’s decision is important and timely.”

Congratulations to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium on their success in the case and this affirmation of tribal sovereignty and tribal sovereign immunity from suit.


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