American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and Indian Wills

For years CILS has prioritized the preservation and enhancement of the California Indian land base in California.  Part of this work correlates with assisting individuals that have an Indian allotment or an interest in an allotment to better understand their rights and sometimes their responsibilities to future generations. As part of this work, CILS has conducted numerous presentations over the years regarding the impact of the AIPRA and the need for executing an Indian Wills or estate planning of Indian trust assets. The AIPRA, enacted in 2004, provides for a national uniform inheritance scheme in situations where there is no valid Indian Will. The inheritance scheme is one that not every Indian trust holder may wish to have applied when determining who will inherit their trust assets. Unless an individual leaves a valid Indian Will, AIPRA’s scheme may control their trust property’s future. This is where CILS presentations and Indian Will drafting helps individuals make informed decisions. Typically, individuals have specific questions and concerns that they may not wish to voice to family members or friends but that CILS staff can assuage. All CILS offices provide Indian Will drafting for those holding Indian trust assets.

CILS Will drafting services are no-cost to those who qualify for our free legal services. For those who are over-income, CILS provides Indian Will drafting at an hourly rate – typically to cover the cost. While CILS does not generally take on work for individuals who are over-income, our Indian Wills practice is an exception. Most California private estate planning attorneys do not draft Indian Wills; their focus is upon those assets coming strictly under California state inheritance laws. Many of these private attorneys shy away from drafting Indian Wills, in part because of the perceived complexities involving Indian trust assets including Federal regulations, tribal codes, the AIPRA and the myriad of administrative agencies within the Department of the Interior. For CILS, however, this services is part of our common practice – and is much-needed throughout Indian Country.

CILS is available for Indian Wills/Indian estate planning presentations and Indian Will clinics.  Tribes can contact the local CILS office to arrange this service. Individuals holding Indian trust assets, such as allotment or heirship interests or Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, can also contact their local CILS office and speak with a representative about their eligibility for Indian Will drafting services.

Anna Hohag Starts Fellowship in Bishop Office

“I am a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and from the Payahuunadu (Owens Valley). I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to work as a CILS fellow. I know CILS will provide me with a broad variety of cases which will help me develop the skills needed as a future attorney advocating for tribal rights. Finally, I hope to give back to my community and serve as a role model to local Native youth while I’m a CILS fellow,” said Anna Hohag about her fellowship.

August 28, 2017: Anna Hohag will start a one-year Legal Fellowship in September at our CILS Bishop office. The California Bar Foundation awarded CILS a Public Interest Legal Fellowship Grant which made it possible for Anna to join the CILS team. Anna will focus on Tribal Court development which includes providing training for tribes in the local area on how to establish a  Justice System. She will also help provide legal education, consultation, and advocacy to tribes and Native American individuals, work to protect tribal sovereignty and the rights of tribes, and the civil rights of Native American individuals.

Anna Hohag is a recent Arizona law school graduate and a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe. We are honored to have her joining our Bishop office.

Ninth Circuit Allows Bishop Paiute Law Enforcement Case to Proceed

Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to the Bishop Paiute Tribe in its federal suit against Inyo County, the County Sheriff, and District Attorney.  The lower district court dismissed the Tribe’s law suit against the defendants on July 13, 2015, for lack of jurisdiction finding there was no “justiciable case and controversy.”  The Tribe appealed the lower court’s dismissal, and today the 9th Circuit reversed and remanded the case to lower court allowing the Tribe to move forward on the merits.  Please see the decision for a complete summary of the facts and procedural history of the Tribe’s law suit leading up to appeal.

Read more here on Turtle Talk.

“Wrong Application” for Conducting Criminal Background Checks

If your tribe has been approved for conducting Criminal Background Checks under SB 1460 and are providing Live Scans on reservation or you are in the process of obtaining 1460 approval and intend to conduct Live Scans, you must complete the attached application. Tribes were inadvertently provided the incorrect application (PSP) by the Department of Justice and are being requested to complete the new application.

New APP Agency LSSP Application Packet.3.9.17

Bill Would Allow Cultural Regalia at Graduations

Rebekah Israel said she had waited years for the moment when she would receive her high school diploma while wearing an eagle feather, a power symbol that represents a rite of passage for her and other Native Americans.

But then the moment was stolen from her, she said, as a woman from her school tried to snatch the feather from her mortarboard and scolded her for wearing it.

“I felt really embarrassed, so I just cried right away,” she said about her graduation ceremony in June 2016. “I just grabbed the diploma really fast and rushed off the stage.”

It’s still difficult for the 19-year-old Santee resident to talk about the incident that happened a year ago at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, where she was graduating with other students from the Charter School of San Diego.

“We went over there, and Rebekah was just torn apart,” said her mother, Kiana Maillet. “She told me that this woman looked at her feather and said, ‘You’re not allowed to wear that,’ and she reached for it. Nobody’s allowed to touch our feather. We’re supposed to protect them. She just broke down on stage in front of everyone.”

Similar incidents happen to Native Americans each year in California, but a bill with broad support by legislators could change that for the class of 2018. Israel lent her support by speaking about her experience before an Assembly subcommittee earlier this year.

“I told them I don’t want other students to feel upset when they’re walking and wearing their graduation cap,” she said.

Israel was testifying in support of Assembly Bill 233, which already has passed the Assembly and just last week passed the Senate Education Committee. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, is headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

As Gloria explained, the bill would allow students in California public schools to wear adornments that represent their cultural or religion during graduation ceremonies.

In Israel’s case, the adornment was an eagle feather, a symbol of strength and freedom to Native Americans. If the bill becomes law, all schools would have to allow religious-cultural symbols.

Jackie Robertson, communications specialist for the Charter School of San Diego, said the school does have rules against adornments at graduation, but would support the bill.

“The Charter School of San Diego always wants to be supportive and cooperative, and if AB233 passes, we will support it 100 percent,” she said. “Currently, our policy is to not allow any sort of adornment on graduation attire because every year we have many diverse requests. Some of them are credible and some of them are not so credible. It would be helpful to the students and schools if the bill’s language were specific to help create fair and equitable guidelines.”

Adornments on mortarboards are very common at college and university graduations, but many high schools have strict rules about prohibiting any items that would disrupt the uniform look of rows of graduates in matching caps and gowns.

Every year, those rules clash with the sentiments of Native Americans students like Israel.

“When I was little, I grew up watching all my cousins and family friends get eagle feathers when they graduated from high school,” she said. “So I’d been waiting for it since I was 10 years old.”

Mark Vezzola, an attorney at the California Indian Legal Services’ Escondido office, said he hears similar complaints during graduation season each year.

“Our position is that by denying a student the right to wear an eagle feather or another culturally significant item, they are being denied essentially their freedom of speech or freedom of expression,” Vezzola said.

“Those are powerful symbols in the Native American community, and I just don’t think people understand that,” he added. “They’re more than decorations.”

Sometimes the issues are resolved with discussions, and sometimes there has been legal action by the Native Americans Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo., he said.

“Finally, we thought, ‘Why not take a different approach?’” Vezzola said. “Maybe there’s a way to protect these rights through California law.”

Gloria said he was contacted by California Indian Legal Services to work on a bill, and he suspects he may have been asked because he is the only state legislator who also is a voting member of a tribe.

Although he describes himself as “a mutt,” Gloria also is a member of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“There’s a level of common sense involved here,” Gloria said about allowing students to wear feathers, beads or other items on their caps at graduation. “Why is that disruptive, and who would have an issue with it?”

Gloria said the bill still would allow schools to have a say in what students wear during their ceremonies, but there would be exceptions for cultural and religious items.

“These students are not asking for political statements or other sorts of things, but to just show pride in their culture,” he said. “In a lot of ways, this is speech guaranteed under the Constitution. The bill is meant to get away from this madness.”

Twitter: @GaryWarthUT