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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation Coming to Yale Law School Nov. 14

The Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian nation in the United States, will be sitting at Yale Law School on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. The event is sponsored by the Dean’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Native American Law Students’ Association (NALSA), and The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), with support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School. It takes place at 4:30 p.m. in the Yale Law School auditorium, and the public is welcome to attend. Yale Law School is located at 127 Wall Street, New Haven. 

The Court, consisting of Chief Justice Herbert Yazzie, Justice Eleanor Shirley, and Justice Wilson Yellowhair will hear oral arguments in the appeal of the case, Navajo Nation v. RJN Construction Management, Inc., Robert J. Nelson and The Home for Women and Children. The briefs filed in the case are available below.

The case focuses on one of the most nuanced and contentious issues American Indian governments face: the ownership of Indian land held in trust by the federal government. It also addresses the complex interplay between the community’s use of reservation land and business interests.

The dispute concerns the ownership of Shiprock Home for Women and Children, which was built by a nonprofit on the Navajo Reservation. The nonprofit claims the property as their own, but the Navajo Nation says that, since no individual or organization can own reservation land, it is under their care. A district judge ruled in the Navajo Nation’s favor last February, granting them an injunction to prohibit shelter officials and the construction company from interfering with the tribe’s completion of the project. The defendants, made up of the shelter’s staff, RJN Construction Management, Inc., and the company’s chief executive officer, Robert Nelson, are now appealing the injunction.

This will be the Navajo Nation Supreme Court’s first visit to Yale Law School and a chance for members of the Law School community to witness a tribal court in session. The justices will hold a question-and-answer session with students following the arguments.

“The Court’s visit is a unique and exciting opportunity for our students, faculty, and the public to get a firsthand look at how the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation works,” said Yale Law School Dean Robert Post ’77. “The visit will also help build interest in and awareness of Native American law throughout the community.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Yale students to learn about a part of the U.S. justice system to which they probably have no exposure,” said NALSA co-chair Joanne Williams ’12. “Native American courts are an important and growing part of the federal court system. We hope that students will take away from this experience a deep respect for the importance of Native American sovereignty and self rule.”

The Navajo Nation court system is the largest Indian court system in the United States, handling more than 75,000 cases per year. It consists of two levels: the trial courts and the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which sits in Navajo Nation territory in Window Rock, Arizona. Navajo judges are mandated to apply the principles of peacemaking in their decision-making.

Those wishing to attend the court sitting should RSVP here by Nov. 2.