Archive for Thursday, October 8, 1998


October 8, 1998


Arguments of an 1831 U.S. Supreme Court case highlights this year's Tribal Law and Governance Conference at Kansas University.

Dusting off a 160-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case will shed light on the often acrimonious relationship between the U.S. government and Indian nations, organizers of a weekend conference at Kansas University said.

In 1831, America's highest court rejected the Cherokee Nation's petition that it should not be subject to laws passed by the state of Georgia, relegating Indian tribes into a ``guardian-ward relationship'' with the government.

``This case deals with the issue of what the Indian nations are under American federal law,'' said Rob Porter, KU associate professor of law and organizer of this year's Tribal Law and Governance Conference at KU. ``It was one of those very early cases that sort of set the foundation for how tribes would be dealt with in the future. So we're rethinking that.''

The second annual conference, convening Friday at KU's Burge Union, will bring together American Indian legal scholars from across the country.

Robert Yazzie, chief justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, will preside over a nine-member ``Supreme Court of the American Indian Nations,'' which will issue a ruling on Saturday.

``My guess is that we would have a different conception,'' said Porter, also chief justice of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri Supreme Court.

G. William Rice, attorney general of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma and professor of law at the University of Tulsa, will argue for the Cherokee Nation. Clay Smith, solicitor of the state of Montana, will represent Georgia.

Other conference debates will include reforming tribal government and conflicts of interest for lawyers representing their own tribes.

``The discussion that is generated here then goes out throughout the United States, influencing what tribes are doing in Washington, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere,'' said Venida Chenault, director of American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

``If we cannot pull in and integrate that legal framework, we're really defenseless against the kinds of attacks that are made on tribal people.''

The conference is sponsored by the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy and the Tribal Law and Government Center at the KU School of Law. The registration fee for non-students, which includes conference materials, a reception and two luncheons, is $150 .

KU and Haskell students can attend the conferences and court arguments for free, but must register and pay for their own lunch.

For more information, call (785) 864-3925 or e-mail

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is

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