Smoke Signals Indian Law Blog Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:34:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tribal Courts by Samantha Bee.. Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:18:24 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Yesterday I wrote about the need for increased tribal jurisdiction and enhanced tribal courts.  Yesterday, Samantha Bee did a segment on tribal courts and compared Donald Trump’s comments about the judge in his Trump University litigation to comments made about Tribal Court judges in the Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.  Timely, hysterical and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

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Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing & Bureau of Justice Assistance Joint Jurisdiction Courts Manual Mon, 20 Jun 2016 15:43:00 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Last week, the Bureau of Justice Assistance published the Joint Jurisdiction Courts: A Manual for Developing Tribal, Local, State & Federal Justice Collaborations.  BJA, through the Center for Evidence-based Policy of the Oregon Health and Science University and Project T.E.A.M., a BJA-funded training and technical assistance providers, has published a manual for tribal and community leaders who want to develop joint jurisdiction courts or initiatives in their own communities. 

Joint Jurisdiction Courts: A Manual for Developing Tribal, Local, State & Federal Justice Collaborations, is a guide that describes the process developed in one Minnesota community and adopted by other jurisdictions including communities in California and Alaska. The manual describes the benefits of intergovernmental collaboration, and provides suggested guidelines for developing a new joint jurisdiction justice collaborative based on identified needs, tribal and community culture, evidence-based treatment principals, articulated goals, and defined outcomes and includes best practices and lessons learned from Project T.E.A.M.’s work. The manual and supplementary materials can be found on the Project T.E.A.M. website: Also visit the Project T.E.A.M. website:

This comes at a time when both Congress and Tribes are looking to fill the jurisdictional gaps on reservations.  As recently as May, 2016, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on S.2785, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act of 2016 and S.2920, the Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2016.  S.2785 would expand tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for certain child abuse and drug-related offenses committed in Indian Country, as well as crimes committed against tribal police officers exercising tribal criminal jurisdiction. S.2920 would explore the feasibility of integrating Federal law enforcement, public safety, substance abuse and mental health programs in Indian Country, provide for improved information sharing with Indian tribes, consult on tribal juvenile justice reform, reauthorize tribal court training, required the appointment of Federal public defenders for each district that includes Indian country, require a GAO report on justice for Indian juveniles, and other related requirements.  (If you are interested in learning more about these bills, contact me for the memos we provided our clients on this issue).  The Committee has scheduled a markup for these bills later this week.

However, the expansion of this jurisdiction requires tribes to “beef” up their tribal court systems.  Exercising tribal jurisdiction is vital to building strong tribal communities and manuals like this provide free assistance information to Tribes and tribal courts seeking to improve on their current tribal judicial system.   The Department of Justice offers Tribal Capacity Building grants to provide funding to strengthen the tribe’s ability to implement and enhance tribal justice systems through training and technical assistance to increase their knowledge of emerging technology, evidence-based practices, and new models of service. The 2016 grant application closed on June 2, 2016 but there will likely be additional opportunities in 2017.

Unfortunately, violence in our communities is a constant reality.  Keeping our communities safe and providing victims with the opportunity to heal is worth expending the time and resources necessary to build vibrant and effective tribal justice systems.

With Hope for Safe and Healthy Tribal Communities,

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IRS Issues Final General Welfare Exclusion Guidance Tue, 03 Jun 2014 22:04:37 +0000 Continue Reading]]>  Today, the IRS issued Rev. Proc 2014-35 “Application of the General Welfare Exclusion to Indian Tribal Government Programs that Provide Benefits to Tribal Members”.  The Guidance recognizes the inherent sovereignty of Tribes and the importance of excluding certain benefits from individual tribal income tax.  The Final Guidance states:

The Service has consistently concluded, however, that certain payments made to or on behalf of individuals by governmental units under governmentally provided social benefit programs for the promotion of the general welfare are not included in a recipient’s gross income (general welfare exclusion).

To qualify under the general welfare exclusion, the payments must (1) be made pursuant to a governmental program, (2) be for the promotion of the general welfare (that is, based on need), and (3) not represent compensation for services.

Note however, these “[b]enefits qualify under the general welfare exclusion only if they are not lavish or extravagant.” “Lavish” and “extravagant” are to be determined by the facts and circumstances of each circumstance.

The Guidance lists the following types of government programs and services that may be excluded from Federal Income tax under the General Welfare Exclusion:

  • Housing (Certain Down payments, Repair, Utility Assistance);
  • Education (Tuition Assistance, Housing, Books, Child Care to Attend School, etc.);
  • Elderly and Disabled Programs (Meals, Transport, etc.);
  • Cultural and Religious Programs (Attend Cultural Events; Reimbursement of Payments to Cultural Practitioners; Attend Funeral, Wakes, Burials);

The entire guidance can be found here   While this is indeed a step in the right direction, it IS only a guidance and subject to the winds of political change that often buffet Indian Country.  The Obama Administration continues to demonstrate its commitment to the First People of the United States but we may not have this same level of commitment in the future.  We must remain vigilant and continue to press for permanent changes in statute and regulation.

NAFOA will be hosting a webinar on June 5, 2014.  Info below.


1101 30th St, NW Suite 500
Washington, DC 20007 

Webinar Details

Time: 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. (EDT) 

Date: Thursday, June 5, 2014

Register: Click Here


IRS’ Final GWE Guidance (RP 2014-35)

IRS’ Intermin GWE Guidance (Notice 2012-75)

IRS Releases New General 

Welfare Guidance

Following a prolonged period of dialogue and consultation with tribes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued its final guidance on General Welfare Exclusion (GWE) as it applies to tribal governments. This guidance seeks to ensure that the sovereign right of tribal nations to provide services that improve the welfare of their citizens will be uniformly upheld.


The guidance released today, June 3, 2014, in the form of a revenue procedure (RP 2014-35), improves upon the IRS’ interim guidance (Notice 2012-75) issued in December 2012. Some of the notable changes include:

  • Expanding GWE to include individuals considered as “qualified nonmembers”, such as spouses and children.
  • Expanding GWE to include payment of all expenses for individuals participating in, and attending certain tribal activities (including religious, cultural and historical tribal activities).
  • Expanding GWE to include payment of expenses associated with funerals, burials and other bereavement events.
  • Expanding GWE to include payments for preschool, education, and transportation expenses.
  • Clarifying that tribes can fund general welfare programs through levies, taxes, service fees and revenues from tribally-owned businesses.

NAFOA will host a joint webinar with its organizational partner, the National Congress of American Indians, at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) on Thursday, June 5, to review the guidance and its impact on tribal governments. Please send any opinions, questions and comments to Dante Desiderio,


Growing Tribal Economies * Strengthening Tribal Finance  



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Safe Travels, Billy Frank (Nisqually) Mon, 05 May 2014 19:53:31 +0000 Continue Reading]]> We heard the sad news that Billy left today.

Billy always held my hand, kissed my cheek, and told me how “damn” pretty I was.

Billy had more than a spark. – Billy Frank blazed for us, for all Native people and for our right to fish and exist as Native people. We need leaders like Billy Frank.  Leaders who give everything they have to make sure that the next generations live a better life than the generation before.  I am personally honored to have known him.

Travel Safely, Uncle Billy.  We have loved you, admired you, and will miss you.

Statement from Gov. Jay Inslee on the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. below:

“Washington lost a true legend with the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. today.

He was a selfless leader who dedicated his life to the long fight for the rights of our state’s native people. Billy was a champion of tribal rights, of the salmon, and the environment. He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail.

I’m thankful Billy was here to see the 2014 Legislature pass a bill helping to overturn convictions from treaty protests. Billy was right on this issue and the state owed this gesture of justice to him and others who jeopardized their liberty to fight for treaty rights.

Billy never wavered in his conviction and passion. He stressed to me the spiritual and cultural relationship that indigenous people have with salmon.

His work is the foundation of an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten in Washington state.

He once said, ‘The Creator put that salmon there for it to survive.’ I thank the Creator for putting Billy here to make sure we never forget what he fought for.

Trudi and I send our condolences to Billy’s family, friends, tribal members and everyone across the state and the country who mourns the passing of this great man.”

Secretary Jewell’s statement on the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. on the Turtle Talk blog:

“Indian Country and the nation lost a true giant as Chairman Billy Frank has walked on. His lasting legacy will be felt for generations in the hearts and minds of those he touched over an entire life dedicated to serving others. Two weeks ago, the entire room fell silent at a tribal summit held at the Suquamish reservation in Washington to listen as Billy spoke forcefully and passionately about the need to tackle the growing threat of climate change. Billy shared a great sense of urgency that we come together as one people to work toward practical solutions to address its impacts.

To honor his life of service, let us redouble our efforts to do everything we can to uphold our trust and treaty responsibilities and to partner with tribes across the country on caring for our lands, waters and wildlife. On behalf of all Department of the Interior employees, we extend our deepest condolences to the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and to Mr. Frank’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

White House press release:

Office of the Press Secretary
May 5, 2014

Statement by the President on the Passing of Billy Frank, Jr.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. – Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. Billy fought for treaty rights to fish the waters of the Pacific Northwest, a battle he finally won in 1974 after being arrested many times during tribal “fish-ins”. Today, thanks to his courage and determined effort, our resources are better protected, and more tribes are able to enjoy the rights preserved for them more than a century ago. Billy never stopped fighting to make sure future generations would be able to enjoy the outdoors as he did, and his passion on the issue of climate change should serve as an inspiration to us all. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Nisqually Indian Tribe, and to Billy’s family, and to his many friends who so greatly admired him.”


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