155. Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council, November 17, 1959
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242 majority of our Indian citizens are as desirous and capable of exercising all of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship as are the rest of us, provided they have equal opportunities with their fellow citizens. And having said that, I want to add this: under no circumstances could I bring myself to recommend the termination of the Federal relationship with any Indian tribe in this country until the members of that tribe have been given the opportunity of a sound and effective education . To me it would be incredible, even criminal, to send any Indian tribe out into the stream of American life until and unless the educational level of that tribe was one which was equal to the responsibilities which it was shouldering. . . . [Congressional Record, 105:3105.] 154. Williams v. Lee January 12, 1959 In this case the Supreme Court, reversing a decision of the Arizona Supreme Court, protected the authority of tribal courts. The legal historian Charles F. Wilkinson says the case “opened the modern era of federal Indian law” and that “its paradigm of exclusive tribal judicial jurisdiction is a leading example of the special rules that the Court has recognized during the modern era to protect tribal government in Indian country.” . . . . Respondent, who is not an Indian, operates a general store in Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation under a license required by federal statute. He brought this action in the Supreme Court of Arizona against petitioners , a Navajo Indian and his wife who live on the Reservation, to collect for goods sold them there on credit. Over petitioners’ motion to dismiss on the ground that jurisdiction lay in the tribal court rather than in the state court, judgment was entered in favor of respondent. The Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed, holding that since no Act of Congress expressly forbids their doing so Arizona courts are free to exercise jurisdiction over civil suits by non-Indians against Indians though the action arises on an Indian reservation. . . . Because this was a doubtful determination of the important question of state power over Indian affairs, we granted certiorari. . . . There can be no doubt that to allow the exercise of state jurisdiction here would undermine the authority of the tribal courts over Reservation affairs and hence would infringe on the right of the Indians to govern themselves. It is immaterial that respondent is not an Indian. He was on the Reservation and the transaction with an Indian took place there. . . . The cases in this Court have consistently guarded the authority of Indian governments over their reservations. Congress recognized this authority in the Navajos in the Treaty of 1868, and has done so ever since. If this power is to be taken away from them, it is for Congress to do it. . . . [358 U.S. Reports, 217–18, 223.] 155. Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council November 17, 1959 The Native American Church undertook action to enjoin enforcement of an ordinance of the Navajo tribal council which made it an offense to use peyote. The plaintiff argued that the ordinance violated the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, held that the First Amendment did not bind the tribal council even though its laws had an impact on forms of religious worship. 243 . . . . No law is cited and none has been found which undertakes to subject the Navajo tribe to the laws of the United States with respect to their internal affairs, such as police powers and ordinances passed for the purposes of regulating the conduct of the members of the tribe on the reservation. It follows that the Federal courts are without jurisdiction over matters involving purely penal ordinances passed by the Navajo legislative body for the regulation of life on the reservation. But it is contended that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to Indian nations and tribes as it does to the United States and to the States. It is, accordingly , argued that the ordinance in question violates the Indians’ rights of religious freedom and freedom of worship guaranteed by the First Amendment. No case is cited and none has been found where the impact of the First Amendment, with respect to religious freedom and freedom of worship by members of the Indian tribes, has been before the court. . . . The First Amendment applies only to Congress. It limits the powers of Congress to interfere with religious freedom or religious worship. It is made...