Trenton Indian Service Area v. Great Plains Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 54 IBIA 298 (2012)

Docket Number:IBIA 10-069

INTERIOR BOARD OF INDIAN APPEALS Trenton Indian Service Area v. Great Plains Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs 54 IBIA 298 (04/03/2012)United States Department of the InteriorOFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS INTERIOR BOARD OF INDIAN APPEALS 801 NORTH QUINCY STREET SUITE 300 ARLINGTON, VA 22203TRENTON INDIAN SERVICE AREA, Appellant, v. GREAT PLAINS REGIONAL DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, Appellee.Order Reversing Decision and RemandingDocket No. IBIA 10-069April 3, 2012The Trenton Indian Service Area (TISA), through its Board of Directors (Directors), appeals to the Board of Indian Appeals (Board) from a January 29, 2010, decision (Decision) of the Great Plains Regional Director (Regional Director), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). TISA had appealed to the Regional Director from a June 10, 2009, decision by BIA’s Turtle Mountain Agency Superintendent (Superintendent) that approved, over TISA’s objections, a business lease granted by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (Tribe) on Turtle Mountain Public Domain Allotment T939-A (Allotment).1 TISA asserts that it is the owner of the Allotment with authority to grant leases on the Allotment, and the Superintendent approved the lease over TISA’s objections. The Regional Director concluded that TISA lacked standing to appeal the Superintendent’s decision, and dismissed TISA’s appeal without reaching the merits. We reverse and remand. The deed to the Allotment transferred title to “the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians for the use of the Trenton Indian Service Area in Trust Status.” The Regional Director interprets this language to mean that the Tribe, not TISA, is the owner of the Allotment, and because all of the power vested in the Directors was created andThe Allotment is more particularly described as the surface interest in “[t]hat part of Lot 7 located north of North Dakota Highway number 1804, sec. 19, Twp. 153 N., Rge. 102 W., 5th Principle [sic] meridian, Williams County, North Dakota, containing 16.14 acres, more or less.” Deed No. 256-1004, approved by BIA on August 19, 1992 (Administrative Record (AR) Tab 5 at 6). All references to page numbers in the AR refer to batestamped page numbers. 54 IBIA 298granted by the Tribe and because the Tribe has plenary power over all of its tribal lands, the Regional Director concluded that TISA lacks standing to participate in the decision to approve the lease, and dismissed TISA’s appeal.2 We reverse, and order the reinstatement of TISA’s appeal because, regardless of how title is held, the deed created a legally protected interest in TISA. The face of the deed recites that the Allotment is “for the use of the Trenton Indian Service Area.” It is undisputed that TISA is governed by its Directors, who are empowered by the Tribe to manage TISA’s assets. The fact that TISA may be a subdivision of the Tribe does not mean that it cannot and does not separately have an interest in the use and disposition of the Allotment sufficient to entitle TISA to be heard on the issue of the business lease. These facts suffice to confer standing in this matter on TISA and on the Directors to appeal the Superintendent’s lease approval to the Regional Director. Background In 1884, the size of the Tribe’s Turtle Mountain Reservation was reduced from 22 to 2 townships, resulting in insufficient reservation land to grant allotments to all of the Tribe’s eligible members upon the passage of the General Allotment Act in 1887. See TISA’s Opening Br., Ex. 22. Twenty years later, Congress enacted a law that permitted the unallotted members of the Tribe to take allotments from the public domain. Pub. L. 58-125, 33 Stat. 195 (Apr. 21, 1904) (excerpt attached to TISA’s Opening Brief at Ex. XXIII). The geographical area comprising some or all of these lands eventually became designated as a Federal “service area” so that the Indian residents could receive Federal Indian program services, and the area is now known as the Trenton Indian Service Area. Letter Opinion 94-L-174 from Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp to Henry C. “Bud” Wessman, July 1, 1994 (AR Tab 49 at 185).3 The Service Area, located approximately 200-250 miles from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, is spread over six counties on both sides of the Montana-North Dakota border.4The Regional Director also noted that because this dispute is between a tribe and one of its political subdivisions, the dispute is an intra-tribal matter that must be resolved in a tribal forum. The entity TISA, who is the Appellant here, and the geographical area are both referred to — sometimes confusingly — as the “Trenton Indian Service Area.” To avoid confusion in our decision, we use “TISA” to refer solely to Appellant and “Service Area” to refer to the geographical area. The six counties that comprise TISA are Williams, Divide, and McKenzie counties in North Dakota and Roosevelt, Richland, and Sheridan counties in Montana. 54 IBIA 299The Tribe’s Council (Tribal Council) authorized the formation of TISA in 1975 as a tribal corporation for the purpose of advancing socio-economic development within the Service Area. Ordinance 28, Mar. 25, 1975, at 2-3 (unnumbered) (attached to Regional Director’s Answer Brief).5 The tribal corporation, acting through its Directors, was variously referred to in...

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