NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 2)

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In the second of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses the legal doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and the future of the doctrine with respect to the Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also discusses how GTB has worked to systematically build its justice system, and stresses the need for Native nations to adequately fund their justice systems.

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Petoskey, John. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 2)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 3, 2013. Interview.

Ryan Seelau:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Ryan Seelau. On today's program we have back with us John Petoskey, citizen and longtime general counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. This week, he is serving as the Indigenous Leadership Fellow with the University of Arizona's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. Good to have you with us, John."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

Ryan Seelau:

"We're here today to talk about a few other nation-building topics to build on the things you've talked about this week, and the first topic I would like to talk about is sovereign immunity. And the first question is hopefully sort of a simple one. Can you just tell us what in layman's terms the doctrine of sovereign immunity is and sort of why it exists and what the rationale behind it is?"

John Petoskey:

"The doctrine provides that a sovereign is not subject to suit unless there is a consent to that suit, unless the sovereign either waives sovereign immunity or -- in the case of Indian tribes -- if Congress statutorily enacts something that abrogates the immunity of the Indian tribe. So sovereign immunity for a state, for example, is recognizing the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and sovereign immunity of the United States, although not recognized in the U.S. Constitution, is part of the Law of Nations that was adopted in the early part of the constitutional history of the United States, that the United States could not be sued without its consent. So it's a doctrine that provides immunity for a sovereign, in this case the United States, a state or tribe from un-consented lawsuits."

Ryan Seelau:

"And what is sort of the rationale behind why it exists in the tribal context?"

John Petoskey:

"In the tribal context, it's to protect the tribal treasury, and it's also the same rationale that exists for state and federal that the governance process of the tribe should be immune from undue influence by private suits."

Ryan Seelau:

"And in your day-to-day work as general counsel, where does the doctrine of sovereign immunity come up?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, let me preface my response with my history with Grand Traverse Band. Grand Traverse Band was the first tribe to achieve federal recognition in 1980. That was two years after the Santa Clara [Pueblo v. Martinez] decision, which recognized sovereign immunity as a valid doctrine in the modern era of federal Indian law. And so in the early years of representing Grand Traverse Band, we would have a number of off-reservation creditors or off-reservation contract partners or tort people who would be suing in state court against the tribe and we would have to assert the immunity of the tribe, that it had not been waived nor had Congress abrogated that immunity and therefore the...it was generally in the context of a motion to dismiss that there was no basis for the lawsuit because of the immunity of the tribe. And in the early years, I probably did over 30 lawsuits of various litigants suing the tribe and the response from Grand Traverse Band generally evolved from those 30 suits to enacting statutory structures and resolutions that waived immunity and provided redress for people who were suing."

Ryan Seelau:

"Let's talk a little bit more about those statutes. Can you give an idea of some of the areas that immunity's been waived and what the thinking was behind that process and then, not going into specific codes, but what that looked like in practice?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, I know you said not going into specific codes, but I can only talk in terms of the specific codes. First of all, the constitution of Grand Traverse Band provides for a waiver of sovereign immunity for its tribal citizens to sue under rights that are similar to the Indian Civil Rights Act in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and the constitution, the tribe's constitution, limits those remedies to prospective relief without any relief from the tribal treasury. The other two major statutes that the tribe passed was one on contracts and one on tort. The contracts we passed a general waiver of sovereign immunity for expectancy damages on the contract limiting the remedy to consequential damages and so our off-reservation vendors, when they do have a dispute with the tribe, do file a contract claim in the tribal court asserting expectancy damages and you just go through the regular contract analysis. With regard to torts, we have also waived immunity similar to the Federal Tort Claims Act in providing a limitation on remedies that are available for people who suffer, allegedly suffered a tort, and the big limitation that we have on that particular statute is that pain and suffering, which is the large area of tort case compensation, is limited to one-and-a-half times actual physical damages. And I might add that after we passed that statute our insurance premiums, the level of risk, actually declined because the insurance company could then therefore measure the level of risk and knew what the risk was less than not having a tribal waiver of immunity for tort actions."

Ryan Seelau:

"It's very interesting that the insurance premiums declined. Were there other benefits that you saw from the time before that those statutes were enacted to when the policy...when the constitution was passed and other policies came into play?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. First, for tribal citizens it provides a method to dispute tribal council actions either in the executive or legislative capacity as being a breach of the Bill of Rights, if you will, that's... in our constitution it's Article X, which parallels the Indian Civil Rights Act. And so tribal citizens do bring causes of action against the tribal council or against the tribal councilors or against the executive departments alleging that the implementation of a particular tribal statute or particular tribal program is a violation of the Bill of Rights. The remedies that they seek are modification of the program, prospective relief in other words. With regard to the tort and contract issue, the tribe is involved with off-reservation vendors and also involved with off-reservation business invitees to its casinos and its hotels and we needed to provide a remedy for those people who come on to the reservation to engage in business with us and to have a determinate process of dispute resolution. When we did not have the waiver of sovereign immunity, we always had an indeterminate process of dispute resolution because the suit would be filed and in some cases given the merits of the suit the council would prospectively waive immunity for that particular suit to resolve that issue. In other cases, the council would not waive immunity and would just argue that we're immune from suit and not provide a remedy for the person who allegedly suffered harm. The statutes now provide a determinate response for all litigants on what they're going to do. And so when they enter into business with the tribe, they enter into business with the tribe knowing the risks and understanding that if there is a dispute, there is a remedy to resolve that dispute."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'm going to break my own rule and go into specifics a little bit, but procedurally in the contract instance or when the tribal council wants to waive immunity, is there a procedure or are those automatically in certain instances...?"

John Petoskey:

"No, there is a procedure. We have resolutions. The tribe does waive its immunity for transactional documents related to financing, for example, and we have chartered subordinate organizations and we have a Section 17 corporation under the Indian Reorganization Act that has a process for waiving immunity and that process has to go through the Economic Development Corporation through a resolution authorized by the corporation. That resolution then has to come back to the tribal council and the tribal council has to concur in the waiver prior to the waiver being effective. With regard to...there's one statute I didn't mention that I would like to mention very quickly and that is that the tribe has also enacted an arbitration provision, and primarily the reason we enacted an arbitration statute was because we have done substantial construction projects, multi-million [dollar] construction projects and we needed a methodology to resolve those construction disputes. The expertise of a tribal judge is not necessarily related to the complex problems related to construction activities and the American Arbitration Association has a wide variety of arbitrators that are specialists in different subject matter areas. You could have maritime...well, not maritime jurisdiction, but you could have commercial arbitration, you can have construction arbitration, and so this process that we enacted references the people who have the dispute, the off-reservation contractors and the tribe to go through the arbitration process with construction arbitrators, and it's a much quicker way to resolve disputes because the parties involved are speaking the same language in terms of construction activities. They're engineers, construction managers, they're architects and they generally have the same sort of two standard form of documents. There's two sets of documents, the AIA documents or the Engineer and Construction Management documents that really structure disputes between the owner, the construction vendor and the architect. And so we enacted that provision in arbitration to access that resource. Once the award is given in arbitration then it's enforced by the tribal court and if it's not enforced by the tribal court, which has never happened in our case, but the parties do have relief in federal court through the Federal Arbitration Enforcement Act. So that provides a lot of security for off-reservation contractors that come on to engage in business on the reservation."

Ryan Seelau:

"Has arbitration been used outside of the construction...is it available to other...?"

John Petoskey:

"It is available to other disputes. The arbitration procedure has been incorporated into our transaction documents for loans on the reservation. These are very large loans that we've negotiated with syndicated loan companies in which arbitration is used for the dispute resolution to determine whether there was a even of breach or interpreting the loan documents, which are extremely comprehensive."

Ryan Seelau:

"I want to turn back a little bit to sovereign immunity and talk a little bit about what role do you see sovereign immunity playing in negotiations with either state governments or local governments? Do you see it as having any impact in those...?"

John Petoskey:

"It does have an impact because sovereign immunity serves as a leverage value for the tribe to negotiate agreements with the State of Michigan in the context of what I'm familiar with. The Grand Traverse Band along with several other tribes in Michigan have negotiated a comprehensive tax agreement with the State of Michigan covering sales and use, income tax, utility tax and this agreement really resolves...it also covers tobacco and gasoline tax. The comprehensive tax agreement resolves a lot of disputes that the tribe could engage in or would have engaged in or other states and other tribes are currently engaging in, and that is the scope of the state's authority to tax for on-reservation transactions. What we've done in Michigan, it's called the...it's a tax agreement that is on the Michigan state website and it details what's called a tax agreement area in which the exemptions of the tribe will apply both for state income tax, sales and use tax, gasoline and cigarette tax, and also creates a situation where the sales tax is shared between the tribe and the state on a percentage basis that is subject to negotiation. Now a lot of those negotiations would not have gone forward if the tribe did not have sovereign immunity, because you have the Citizen Potawatomi decision of 1991 that directly relates to tobacco tax in which the Supreme Court held that the tribe was immune from the Oklahoma Tax Commission's collection efforts against the tribe for on-reservation sales of cigarettes that the tribe did not have to collect on behalf of the state, that there were other methods upstream that they could use to collect. And there have been well-publicized disputes between tribes and local taxing authorities, states in particular, in which things have degenerated into violence and road closures and burning tires and things like that. So that specter of civil unrest related to not having an agreement or enforcing an agreement through extra judicial means was one of the circumstances that both the tribes in Michigan and the state wanted to avoid. And incident to that was the immunity of the tribe, that the immunity of the tribe provided a negotiating leverage point as represented by the Citizen Potawatomi case for the tribe to argue with the state to say there's a different way of resolving this issue, we can do a mutual waiver of immunity, we can enter into this tax agreement and we can establish a regime in which the state and the tribes share the tax revenue and recognize the exemptions that are under federal law and this has been in existence since...we started negotiating in 1999 and very complex issues wasn't resolved until 2004. So it's been existence for about 10 years and it's been administered...the tribe -- both the tribe and the state are happy with the results and we are hopeful that will continue into the future."

Ryan Seelau:

"One of the interesting things about Grand Traverse Band's agreement with the State of Michigan in taxes to me is that if there's any disputes they first go to tribal court. My question for you is first of all, was that an important part of what Grand Traverse Band wanted to get out of the agreement and the other tribes? The second, you may or may not be able to answer this, but why do you think the State of Michigan was comfortable first going into the tribal court to deal with those types of disputes should they arise?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, first we wanted them to go to tribal court because our view of National Farmers and jurisdiction was exhausted in tribal court remedies, but also for some cases where it was on-reservation transactions involving tribal members. We felt that we had exclusive jurisdictions in some context and so we were very...not adamant, but we had very strong views that any initial dispute resolution should go to tribal court. The state has had ongoing relationships with the tribes and the Michigan Supreme Court and the tribal courts have had past reciprocity agreements, the Michigan court rule is at 2615 and that rule recognizes tribal court judgments and orders, subpoenas and other matters and so long as the tribe passes a reciprocal rule for the recognition of state court orders in its tribal court system. So that was the key, the existence of that rule and the history of mutual cross recognition without going through the full faith and credit analysis that had to be done previous to that, in which you had to petition the court and then establish on an itemized basis that the particular subject matter issue that you were involved in met the full faith and credit requirements of the host jurisdiction. All of that process is no longer done in Michigan because it's done via a court rule, Michigan Court Rule 2615 and Chapter X of the Grand Traverse Band court rules. And so it's become a matter of local practice for attorneys up there to understand that they can get their state court judgments enforced in tribal court and that the tribal court judgments conversely can be enforced in state court. So the existence of that rule gave comfort, if you will, to the state, and in addition we wrote statutes to reflect the agreement that we had negotiated, the substantive agreement that we negotiated, the state didn't have sign-off authority on them, but once they saw the scope of the statutes and our enforcement mechanisms that we established for the agreement then they didn't have an objection to having the agreements resolved in tribal court and we have done that. We have, in fact, enforced our tax agreement against our tribal members who have violated it in tribal court for the benefit of the State of Michigan because they are part of the revenue-sharing agreement of the taxes that are generated."

Ryan Seelau:

"Following up briefly on this Rule 2615, was that something that the tribes in Michigan fought to get to occur or do you know the history behind how that came about?"

John Petoskey:

"The history behind it was Justice Cavanaugh who was on the Michigan Supreme Court was interested in this reciprocity between tribal courts and a cousin of mine who's also a lawyer and a tribal judge, Mike Petoskey, and Justice Cavanaugh, started a committee years ago to have coordination between the courts. Justice Cavanaugh attended the Federal Indian Bar meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sometime in the 1980s and that's when Mike and Justice Cavanaugh first met and developed a friendship and in part it was that friendship and the rule-making process in the court that they utilized to...in the Michigan Supreme Court that they utilized to resolve the questions of full faith and credit between tribal courts and state court systems."

Ryan Seelau:

"Are you aware of how many of the tribes have passed the necessary rules or statutes in order for this reciprocity to..."

John Petoskey:

"There are 12 tribes in Michigan and approximately, off the top of my head I don't know the precise number, but I would venture to say 9 or 10 have passed that rule and of the tax agreement, for example, again, it's the same thing, about 9 or 10 have signed onto the tax agreement. There are a couple tribes in Michigan that take a contrary view and that there shouldn't be the reciprocity agreements, there shouldn't be the tax agreements, and they have their own political views as to the source and scope and extent of the tribe's sovereign authority and how to implement that. And I'm not criticizing that. I'm just saying that people do take contrary views from the path that we have taken."

Ryan Seelau:

"I don't want to get too far into it, but in those contrary views to sovereign immunity, the mechanism by which the taxes are not being exchanged?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. Yes. Yes, sovereign immunity is asserted as a basis for not...sovereign immunity is asserted as a basis for those tribes that continue to sell untaxed cigarettes, for example, or engage in transactions that they allege are not subject to the sales and use tax of the State of Michigan and that ties into a different question, which is, what is the scope of Indian Country based upon the exterior boundaries and the scope of the treaty provision areas?"

Ryan Seelau:

"I want to turn attention to something related and something that you've talked quite a bit about in your time as an [NNI] Indigenous Leadership Fellow and that's the Bay Mills Indian Community case and you gave a talk on the case yesterday so we don't need to go into all of the history and details, but I was wondering if you could just briefly give a quick synopsis of what that case is about and perhaps more importantly why that case has been in the news lately or what the concerns about that case going before the Supreme Court are."

John Petoskey:

"Okay. So the Bay Mills Indian Community alleges that under a statute called the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, which implements an Indian Claims Commission judgment, that the terms of the statute created automatic restricted fee if they used resources from Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act funds to buy property. They presented that theory to the National Indian Gaming Commission in a geographic specific amendment to their gaming ordinance, which the National Indian Gaming Commission informally rejected. They then revised their amendment of their gaming ordinance to basically parallel and parrot the provision of what Indian Country is in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. And based upon that provision of their gaming ordinance and the acquisition of an off-reservation casino located in Vanderbilt, Michigan, which is in basically the backyard of another tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, they opened a casino alleging that the acquisition of the property created automatic restricted fee and that based upon the federal rules promulgated May 20, 2008 in regard to the Seneca Indian Land Claim Settlement Act, that restricted fee was not subject to Section XX of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. In other words that it was effectively a loophole, that they didn't have to go through the after acquired property analysis under Section XX and that restricted fee automatically became Indian Country, and if it was automatically Indian Country, they could engage in gaming and they opened a gaming facility. The State of Michigan along with Little Traverse Bay Bands sued for an injunction arguing that Michigan Indian Land Claim Settlement Act did not create restricted fee. They based their authority for the suit under a provision of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was 2710.D.7.A.ii which provides a five-part test for a state or tribe to sue in federal court to enjoin a gaming operation on Indian lands conducted in violation of a compact that is in effect. And so in that statement, there are about five elements that you have to meet for the cause of action. That provision both establishes federal jurisdiction, creates the cause of action, and waives by statutory abrogation, waives the immunity of the tribe that you're suing against. So Bay Mills argued that the complaint by the State of Michigan and Little Traverse Bay Bands was defective and did not meet all of the elements of 2710 because one of the counts alleged that the casino was not on Indian lands. Therefore if you're construing the complaint, if it's not on Indian lands and the conjunctive nature of 2710.D.7.A.ii of the five elements that the Little Traverse Bay Band had a defective complaint by alleging that the casino was not on Indian lands, if it's not on Indian lands there's no federal jurisdiction and there's no waiver of...there's no abrogation of immunity by the statute because the statutes in order to abrogate the immunity under case law have to be strictly construed and followed. That argument was not successful in the federal district court by Judge Maloney and he had an expansive reading of 2710 and relied on a 10th Circuit case that focused more on whether the gaming activity is a violation of the compact and ruled that there was also federal jurisdiction under two other related provisions, 1331 for the federal question of whether or not the Michigan Indian Land Claim Settlement Act created the restricted fee, and also that 1362, which provides authority for a tribe to sue in federal court, that that provided an additional basis for federal jurisdiction. He did modify both of those provisions when Bay Mills pointed out that the Sixth Circuit decision had already issued opinions contrary to that in 1331 and 1362, but he did reaffirm the proposition that an expansive reading of 2710 focusing on whether the tribe, Bay Mills, was violating the compact was a sufficient basis for the abrogation of their immunity under federal law and continued...and rejected their motion for reconsideration on the injunction. At that point, Bay Mills filed an interlocutory appeal to the Sixth Circuit and then briefing was completed and oral argument was held in May of 2012 and then opinion was issued by Judge Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit was the author and he essentially accepted Bay Mills' proposition that 2710.D.7.A.ii has five elements and all of the elements have to be met for there to be federal jurisdiction and for there to be a statutory abrogation and if you construe the complaints of the Michigan...the State of Michigan and the tribe, they are alleging that the casino is not on Indian land, therefore effectively they knocked themselves out of court because they are missing an essential element. So that is the case that's up on appeal. There are some ancillary issues in there that I don't want to go into that relate to the State of Michigan's argument under the Assimilated Crimes Act and also the scope of 1331. The issue that is up on appeal is whether 2710 waives the immunity in the expansive reading that Judge Maloney had in the federal district court or whether 2710 has to be read in a very restrictive manner...explicit manner such as Judge Kethledge said in the Sixth Circuit. So the state's argument, which was filed in August, argues that there's a statutory misinterpretation and that Judge Maloney is correct in his interpretation, but then they go on to an extreme position by saying, "˜And even if Judge Kethledge is right that sovereign immunity, in this particular case, should be modified by the court as part of the common law of the court, the state is urging the Supreme Court to essentially override its common law jurisprudence on sovereign immunity,' and that's where the big danger lays because the jurisprudence has established in the past through CNL in 2001 and Kiowa in 1998, there was a developing analysis of on-reservation, off-reservation, commercial versus governmental and the state is urging that the Supreme Court should adopt an analysis that off-reservation commercial activity is subject to a common law diminishment of sovereign immunity. They are urging the court to say any activities that are off the reservation of a commercial nature the tribe cannot assert sovereign immunity. So that's where the big danger is."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'd like to change topics a little bit now and talk about the sort of legal foundations of nation building. And what I want to talk to you about specifically is sort of the role of culture in legal institutions or in legal doctrine and things of that...and I was wondering how you, over your career, have seen the role of culture play out in legal systems because previously you talked about how, in the previous interview you talked about how you worked...in various parts of the country you worked with the Pueblos in New Mexico and you worked with Alaska native villages in Alaska and you've worked in various contexts and I was wondering how you see the same sort of goal, which is carrying out justice in Indian Country, how you're seeing that process change based on the culture that you were working within."

John Petoskey:

"The example that I used is actually quite dated and I don't think it's relevant to New Mexico anymore, but earlier in my career I worked at Indian Pueblo Legal Services and I worked for the eight northern pueblos and one of the pueblos I worked for was Taos Pueblo and at Taos there was an individual who was a tribal member that only spoke the Taos language and she was suffering from extreme alcoholism that impaired her judgment. At that time they called it 'organicity.' I'm not certain what that phrase means, but she would not leave the village and she was creating distress by her behavior in the village through her alcoholism. The pueblo had made numerous attempts to correct her behavior in their internal mechanisms that I'm not familiar with and then they came to the Legal Services and said, "˜Well, how do we deal with this particular situation?' And in the state law system at the time for somebody that was suffering from extreme alcoholism where they were doing harm to themselves you could petition under the New Mexico Health Code for an involuntary commitment in the district court of New Mexico to place the person in an institution against their will, an involuntary commitment petition is what it was called, but the problem in that case was that the person lived in Taos and would not leave the pueblo. So there was no subject matter civil jurisdiction for an internal relation that was taking place at Taos. So the court didn't have civil jurisdiction, the New Mexico Supreme Court did not have civil jurisdiction to initiate the process, nor would the individual come out of the pueblo. So given that set of circumstances and the language problems connected with her simply speaking the Indian language as her primary language, I met with the pueblo officials and with three caciques and explained that I thought what we should do is establish if you will a panel of caciques that would address this issue in the context of New Mexico law of the elements that you had to meet for an involuntary commitment under New Mexico law. And so they agreed with that and the panel of three caciques were convened with the person who was suffering from alcoholism and I went through the New Mexico Health Code on the elements that had to be met to prove that this person should be subject to an involuntary commitment and it was translated into the Taos language for the individual and explained what was going on and the caciques then agreed that she met all of those criteria and ordered that there would be this involuntary commitment. I then wrote up the order following the procedures that had just taken place and took that order to the New Mexico District Court and sought full faith and credit of what had occurred at Taos Pueblo and had to go through a hearing with a district judge in New Mexico arguing that the process that occurred at Taos Pueblo conformed with the procedural due process values of the New Mexico Health Code and the judge did order that the person was...could be involuntarily committed to a facility that was under New Mexico's control and that's what occurred. And so that was somewhat of a creative use of...I'm not saying that in a self-congratulatory sense. In response to your question that's what I'm saying. It was a use of using the cultural norms of the caciques having the authority that this person, the person suffering from alcoholism, respected and going through that process even though it was New Mexico substantive law, but explaining it to the pueblo officials and the pueblo officials opining that they agreed that this individual should be involuntarily committed because of her behavior."

Ryan Seelau:

"Another experience professionally that you have mentioned, which in some respects is very different from what happened with the pueblos, but on the other hand, also involved getting the sort of cultural norms into a concrete legal document was that of the Chickasaw Constitution being written."

John Petoskey:

"Oh, yes."

Ryan Seelau:

"I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that story and what you observed and how the Chickasaw people...what the process they went through to sort of write and get their constitution done."

John Petoskey:

"So in 1908 the Curtis Act was passed and what the Curtis Act did was allegedly dissolve the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee legislature and created a system of appointment of governors for those...for the five civilized tribes in Oklahoma and that system existed from 1908 to the 1970s when the National Indian Youth Council, a place I worked at, in the late...in the early "˜80s, but in the, I think it was 1973 two attorneys, Tom Lubin and John Kelly filed a lawsuit on behalf of private plaintiffs called Harjo suing the Secretary of Interior and the case was entitled Harjo v. Kleppe arguing that the 1908 Curtis Act did not dissolve the Chickasaw legislature. So here you have a historical basis of the five civilized tribes having a history and a culture of constitutional government of checks and balances and having vibrant complex governments servicing the needs of Choctaws and Chickasaws in the...after their removal from the southeast to Oklahoma, they had a legislature, they had the Light Horsemen Cavalry, they had enforcement of their...they had a functioning democracy and a constitutional form of government. And then you had the United States basically destroying the government saying, "˜You can...we are going to destroy your constitutional government' and that's what the Curtis Act attempted to do. And the argument in Harjo v. Kleppe was that the Curtis Act did not, in fact, dissolve the Chickasaw government and the regime that the Secretary of the Interior had set up over the last 50 years of appointing the governor was clearly in violation of the constitutional cultural history of the Choctaws and Chickasaws and that the Curtis Act's implementation by the Secretary was incorrect. That argument and proposition ultimately prevailed in the federal district court and in the federal court of appeals and that was due to the litigation efforts of, as I said, Tom Lubin and John Kelly. And so when I came into the case in the 1980s, it was implementing that decision to reform the constitutional government and our clients, which were the, if you will, the dissidents against the governor of Chickasaw and the dissidents against the governor of Choctaws were leading a method that was...had to be administered by a federal supervision because of the level of animus that existed between the parties to re-establish a constitutional government and it was negotiations under federal supervision of a constitutional structure that was to be re-implemented at Choctaw and Chickasaw in a constitutionally supervised election of the constitution once it was completed. And that was basically bringing back the cultural tradition of a legislature in Choctaw and Chickasaw in the mid "˜80s and the constitution was approved and the tribe continues today."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'd like to talk a little bit now about Grand Traverse Band's justice system, ask you a few questions about that sort of along the same lines, but first I was wondering if you could just talk about maybe just a brief history of how the justice system, not how it started but when it started and what it looked like and then how it's grown into -- you've already mentioned the arbitration proceedings that are now available in the justice system, you mentioned in the previous interview about peacemaking -- and just sort of take us a little bit through the timeline of how that's grown over time."

John Petoskey:

"As I mentioned, the tribe was recognized in 1980. The tribe was engaged in litigation with the federal government over our constitutional provision on membership. At that time [President] Reagan and James Watt was the Secretary of the Interior and our membership was expansive in terms of the number of people that we said were eligible for enrollment in our tribe and then the Reagan administration and James Watt's position was essentially that the membership shouldn't grow because that's a bigger liability on the part of the federal government and therefore we're arguing for a more limited membership, and that took some time to resolve that issue because our argument was that the tribe determines its membership and not the federal government. The federal government actually alleged in letters that they would and essentially terminate the tribe again by taking away federal funding and taking away the recognition and the tribe's reaction was, "˜It takes an act of Congress to do that. You're going beyond the scope,' and so things...it took several years to resolve that membership issue. I only say that because, as a consequence, the constitution was not actually ratified until 1988. And so...but we were developing the tribal court even though we didn't have a constitutional basis for that tribal court because of this membership dispute. But in our constitution, we provide that the judiciary is a separate branch of government and is independent. So once the constitution was provided, we wanted to assure that independence of the judiciary. And one of the legislative acts that was done was to fund the judiciary on a percentage basis of our net income that did not...that could not be varied without essentially a super majority of the legislature changing that. And so that worked relatively well for the first couple of years, but then our enterprises became very successful, and as a consequence the percentage of funding for the tribal court went up dramatically given the fact that it was based upon a percentage of the net income of the tribe. And so there was the super majority to revise that allocation of funding to comport with the amount of money that the tribe was making at the time. And that's still a question that we have on how properly to fund the judiciary without using the power of the purse string to incapacitate the judiciary. The percentage method was one solution that we thought. It didn't work out because of a mechanical application of that percentage method and a rising income stream has a disproportionate impact on the amount of money that's available to the judiciary, and so I am really open to other avenues that people have on how they fund the judiciary on a basis that doesn't use the power of the purse string to limit the judiciary. That's what part of the independence question that frankly...a riddle that we have not solved. And I'm not certain how other tribes do it. I know there's that common problem in the federal government that has that. Justice Roberts is always complaining about the lack of funding that Congress is giving to the federal court systems. It's not a problem that has been solved in the greater federal system, but I think it's a problem that tribes should attempt to come up with a solution [for] if they want an independent judiciary. But having said all that on the funding, part of developing the culture of a strong judiciary is to recognize the power of the council and what it can do with an opinion that they don't like that the judiciary issues. It's easy to say that you shouldn't remove an individual or fire an individual for an opinion that has been issued and Grand Traverse Band does not do that. We have in our constitution the individual is appointed for a term of years, compensation cannot be reduced while the individual is in office and the only...but an individual -- and this is in our constitution -- individual can be removed for gross neglect, misconduct in office, and we incorporate by reference the American Bar Association Judicial Code of Conduct for a basis for removal. And Grand Traverse Band has undertaken removal proceedings against a judge on the basis of misconduct in office and that involves not a decision of the tribal council -- the tribal council is a litigant, a petitioner -- involves a decision of the appellate judiciary people at Grand Traverse Band judging a member of their own on whether or not the petition has merit for removal. So that's what I've always advised the tribal council. You can either appeal a decision you don't like, you can wait until the power of appointment is up and appoint that individual and you can use, and I know this...you can use political considerations in the appointment process. It's perfectly legitimate in my view when you're appointing a judge to say, "˜I don't want to reappoint you because you made XYZ decision that I disagree with.' That's an appropriate political exercise of the power of appointment. Or you can petition for removal under a decision that you don't like and those are the three methods that the council has used in its relationship with the judiciary. And conversely, the judiciary has removed members of the tribal council where the council members have committed self-dealing acts and the petitioner in that case is a other...majority of the council members vote to file a petition for removal against an individual councilor, the judicial panel hears the matter, an attorney is appointed for the councilor that is subject to removal and it's a litigated question on fact and law, on whether or not the particular alleged behavior amounted to misconduct in office by the tribal council. So the judiciary has opined in the past that the petition that the council filed by majority vote for removal was...had a meritorious basis and the councilor was removed from office by an opinion of the judiciary. So it goes both ways. Those are building strong institutions."

Ryan Seelau:

"We don't have a lot of time, but I want to ask at least one last question, which I think relates or is connected strongly to what you were just talking about and that's this week several times you've talked about how at least at Grand Traverse Band you've seen the sort of process...the justice system-building process as a goal of moving from an indeterminate process to a determinate one and I was wondering if you could tell us what you mean by that and explain why you think that's a good goal to have."

John Petoskey:

"Okay. This was in response to a -- which I have heard repeatedly here and also in other contexts -- that politics should be out of the judiciary, and it's using 'politics' as a negative word. My point was is that I don't think that is the appropriate description. Politics is, in some senses is a dirty word, but in my perspective it's not necessarily a dirty word because it's the process of governance of competing interests that constituents bring to the tribal council and they...this has happened on occasion that a tribal member will have an adverse decision from the judiciary and will call up a councilor and say, "˜This is a bad decision by the judge. You should do something about it.' And then people say, "˜Well, that's politics, that shouldn't happen.' My point is that that conversation between the constituent and the council member is hard to control because that's a council member listening to his or her constituent talking to them as a representative. It's a republican form of government and so the impact that the tribal citizen has is to complain to their elected official and that's what they do so I don't see that as necessarily bad. I do think it's inappropriate though if the elected official then attempts to intervene in the process and to change the end result and that's where I bring up the dichotomy of 'determinate' and 'indeterminate,' because when the elected official intervenes in the process, there are no rules that govern the elected official's behavior and the scope of his intervention and the standards that define what is permissible and impermissible. In other words, it's indeterminate. And the types of activities that should be allowed are only determinative activities where the standards of conduct and the rules of conduct and the appropriate actions are defined by past precedent in which people are arguing about standards that are already in place. Where we get in trouble is when we enter into relationships where there are not pre-existent determinate standards and that goes across the board. Everybody wants to know that what is happening is going to be resolved by a determinate process. They may not agree with the end result, but they do not disagree with the process and in the United States, Bush v. Gore is a perfect example of that. Both the partisans on the part of Bush and Gore disagreed with the end result that the Supreme Court had, but they didn't disagree with the process. Once the decision was made it wasn't...armies weren't called out to enforce it, there wasn't contrary protests of...it was over. Everybody agreed the process had worked and you continued to disagree with the opinion, but it was a determinate process that ended. And that should be the goal of judicial systems and legislative systems to act in a determinate manner and not an indeterminate manner because your constituents, your vendors, your business invitees, your tribal citizens will all appreciate that even if they disagree with the end result because they recognize that the process is determinate and legitimate. Indeterminacy makes illegitimacy."

Ryan Seelau:

"I think that's an excellent point and I'm glad that we were able to talk about it a little bit. John, thank you for sitting down with me and talking again. That's all the time we have in this program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the NNI's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013. Arizona Board of Regents."

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