August 23, 2005
Tribe may prosecute famous American Indian activist
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Affirming the sovereign powers of
American Indian tribes, a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ruled
the Navajo tribe may prosecute American Indian activist Russell
Means even though he is not one of its members.
Means, a member of the Oglala-Sioux Tribe of Indians and
one the best known American Indian activists, had sought to
prevent the Navajo Nation from criminally prosecuting him for
an incident on the Navajo Reservation.
The Navajo Nation wants to press misdemeanor charges
against Means for allegedly threatening and battering his
then-father-in-law and allegedly threatening a Navajo Indian at
its reservation, which covers 25,000 square miles (64,750 km
sq) in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
Means challenged the authority of a Navajo tribal court,
saying it did not have jurisdiction over him because he is not
a member of the Navajo Nation.
Means also said his rights as a U.S. citizen would be
threatened if he were prosecuted by a tribe that discriminated
against him by barring him from joining it because of his
The San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
said it found Means' equal-protection argument forceful. But
writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld held
that Congress by amending the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1990
allowed tribes to "exercise inherent sovereign judicial power
in criminal cases against nonmember Indians for crimes
committed on the tribe's reservation."
Means' lawyer, John Trebon of Flagstaff, Arizona, said he
is inclined to request the full appeals court reconsider the
A leader of the American Indian Movement, Means led the
group's 1973 protest against the federal government in a 71-day
standoff with authorities at the Pine Ridge Reservation near
Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where U.S. troops and Sioux Indians
battled in 1890. The U.S. victory there essentially ended armed
conflicts with tribes known as the Indian wars.