Survey of Interior Board of Indian Appeals Probate Decisions 1980-2000
by PRISCILLA A. WILFAHRT, Esq.
[NOTE: The regulations relating to probate proceedings have been substantially amended since 2000. Some of the following discussion may no longer be applicable. Please consult the current edition of 25 C.F.R. Part 15 and 43 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart D, to see if your issue was affected by the amendments.]
II. General Rules of Construction
- A. Statutes Construed for the Benefit of Indians
- B. General Statutory Construction - Statutes and Regulations
- C. Estoppel
A non-Indian lacks standing to raise an alleged violation of the Federal trust responsibility. Earl Clausen, dba Earl Clausen Farms, Inc. v. Portland Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 19 IBIA 56 (1990). Doubtful or ambiguous expressions in statutes enacted for the benefit of Indians must be interpreted in favor of the Indians. If interpreting a statute that attempts to address two conflicting Federal policies, the BIA must be cognizant of the inherent tension within the statute. Dahlstrom Lumber Co. v. Portland Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs & Mayr Brothers Logging Co., Inc., et al. v. Portland Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 20 IBIA 143 (1991). In cases where the interests of an Indian tribe are arguably in conflict with the interests of some members of the tribe, the IBIA declines to invoke the canon regarding construction of statutory ambiguities in favor of Indians. State of Utah, Board of Indian Affairs & Division of Indian Affairs v. Navajo Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 21 IBIA 282 (1992).
Where a statute concerning Indians manifests two competing purposes, an expansive reading of the statute should be avoided if that reading would disserve one of the two purposes. State of Utah, Board of Indian Affairs & Division of Indian Affairs v. Navajo Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 21 IBIA 282 (1992). In order to correct prior error, an official of the BIA may change an administrative interpretation of a statute as long as the reason for the change is clearly set forth to show that the departure from the prior administrative position is not arbitrary or capricious. Hopi Indian Tribe v. Director, Office of Trust & Economic Development, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 22 IBIA 10 (1992).
Regulations are interpreted in accordance with traditional principles of statutory construction. Words used in regulations are given their plain and ordinary meaning unless they are technical terms or terms of art, in which case they are given their technical meaning. Okie Crude Co., et al. v. Muskogee Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 23 IBIA 174 (1993). A specific provision in BIA program regulations will normally supersede a general regulation dealing with the same subject and a specific reference in regulations to the applicability of a section of the BIA Manual allows that section to be relied on, used, and cited as precedent by the agency. Friends of the Wild Swan v. Portland Area Director, 27 IBIA 8 (1994). A federal agency has a responsibility to explain the rationale and factual basis for decisions affecting persons dealing with the agency. Failure to provide such information is a violation of due process. Quileute Tribe v. Portland Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 23 IBIA 20 (1992). The BIA lacks authority to waive a statutory restriction in the guise of waiving regulations in 25 C.F.R. Chapter I. Clifton W. Skye v. Aberdeen Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 26 IBIA 169 (1994).
In order to estop the Government, the party seeking estoppel must show that the traditional elements of estoppel are present: 1) the party to be estopped knew the facts; 2) he intended that his conduct should be acted on or so acted that the party asserting the estoppel had a right to believe it was so intended; 3) the latter was ignorant of the true facts; and 4) he relied on the former's conduct to his injury. Naegele Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Acting Sacramento Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 24 IBIA 169 (1993).
Links to Additional Topics in this Article
- Trust Responsibility
- General Rules of Construction
- Practice Before the Board - Procedure
- Status of Parties and Choice of Law
- Rehearings and Reopening Estates
- Will Formalities
- Property Inventories
- IBIA Jurisdiction
- The Rules
Finding IBIA Decisions
Indian Self-Determination Act
Procedural Regulations for Cases before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals
FAQs on Practice before IBIA
Articles about IBIA
Finding Pre-IBIA Decisions