Victory For Native Americans in Battle of Equal Treatment!

After a long struggle by Native Americans or Indians it was realized that equal opportunities were not presented for development of these tribes. For achieving this noble goal, Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was enacted in 1975 (Some text of the Act can be accessed on: This Act provides for a strong base for organizations or individuals who wished to take up this task of development of Native Americans. The Department of Interior is mandated to enter into contracts with willing tribes and pay them for public services provided by them.


Since early 1990s, the payment mechanism changed. Instead of paying individually to contractors the federal government decided to pay the costs in lumpsum amount. The allocation of this amount is on pro rata basis to all the tribes. Also, the payments were bound by newly created ceilings which lead to withholding a lot of money by government.


In a recent decision of 18th June 2012 by U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Salazar, secretary of the interior, v. Ramah Navajo chapter (a copy of the of the case can be found at: The suit came up to the supreme court for the want of full reimbursement of the costs incurred by the native American contractors in facilitating federal programs like- education, homeland security and environmental protection.

The court held that these contractors should be treated at par with other private contractors. Hence, the full costs incurred while providing the federal services should be reimbursed by the federal government. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority and said “We stressed that the government's obligation to pay contract support costs should be treated as an ordinary contract promise," this pronouncement by the majority confirmed a Colorado appeals court decision. She also said that "The government was obligated to pay the tribes' contract support costs in full."


Chief Justice John Roberts and few other judges dissented in their opinions. C.J. Roberts wrote in his opinion that “[T]he Secretary is “not required” to engage in such reprogramming to make one tribe’s funds “available to another tribe.” It follows that appropriations allocated for “programs, projects, or activi­ties serving a tribe” are not “available” to another tribe, unless the Secretary reallocates them.”


Lawyer Jonathan Cohn, who represented the tribes, called this decision a big victory as the Supreme court rarely sides the tribes. This decision is being celebrated because of the fact that earlier the federal payments would cover only 77% to 92% of the costs incurred. The decision in favor of these tribes would not only encourage the development but would help in recovering the losses which were incurred till now in facilitating the federal services.