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Beginning today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear two oral arguments in cases both calling into question tribal sovereignty.

In one, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas, the court will rule on whether two federally recognized tribes in Texas have the authority to regulate gaming on their lands. 

In 1987, one year before the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was approved by Congress, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo were granted federal recognition through the Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act. At that time, the Tribes agreed to a prohibition on gamibling. 

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For decades, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a reservation near El Paso, has tried to introduce certain types of gaming prohibited under the act, including electronic bingo, to its casino. Other tribes in Texas under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act are able to offer bingo at their tribal casinos, such as the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas.

In oral arguments, the Supreme Court will hear if the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the  Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas should be governed by Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or the Texas Restoration Act.

In the second case, the court will hear Denezpi v. United States and assess whether or not a conviction in tribal court bars a tribal member from prosecution in U.S. district court for the same crime.

In this case, a citizen of the Navajo Nation was accused of a sexual offense against another Navajo Nation citizen on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation in Colorado in 2017.

The offender was arrested and charged by a federal law enforcement officer and sentenced to140 days of jail time by the Court of Indian Offenses. Six months later, the offender was indicted by a federal grand jury for aggravated sexual abuse. He was tried and convicted by a jury in federal district court and sentenced to 360 months in prison.

Justices will rule on whether or not that “double jeopardy” conviction and punishment was a violation of tribal sovereignty.

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Jenna Kunze
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Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.