In a matter that came down to the wording of their treaty and previous case law, the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma has won a major ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who decided the tribe’s enterprises are outside the reach of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

According to the order issued on June 4th by the NLRB, “Applying the test established by the Board in San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino … we find that application of the Act would abrogate treaty rights, specific to the Nation, contained in the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, … as a result, we decline to assert jurisdiction over the Nation, the Respondent here.”

The decision comes after various other verdicts casting doubt over aboriginal tribes’ actual sovereignty in such matters. In 2004 the NLRB fought a case all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and won. That decision gave the board jurisdiction over labor issues on Indian reservations. However other appelate courts over the years have ruled differently. Making a unified decision more difficult until Thursday was the fact that the NLRA does not specifically mention tribal enterprises.

In 2011 US Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D introduced a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK that would forbid the NRLB from exerting any jurisdiction on tribal lands.

The issue stems from a union drive by blackjack dealers at the WinStar World Casino in southern Oklahoma in 2010. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 886 then alleged that WinStar supervisors threatened and surveilled dealers who participated in a union-organizing campaign. WinStar denied the claims and filed a suit in federal court stating that the board had no jurisdiction on sovereign lands.

The treaty language that won the day for The Chickasaw Nation was,

“… no Territory or State shall ever have a right to pass laws for the government of the (Chickasaw Nation), the treaty reads in part. “(T)he U.S. shall forever secure said (Chickasaw Nation) from, and against, all laws except such as from time to time may be enacted in their own National Councils, not inconsistent with the Constitution, Treaties, and Laws of the United States; and except such as may, and which have been enacted by Congress, to the extent that Congress under the Constitution are required to exercise a legislation over Indian Affairs.”

The NLRB furthered their position quoting, “Article 18 of the 1830 Treaty provides that ‘wherever well founded doubt shall arise’ concerning the construction of the treaty, ‘it shall be construed most favorably towards’ the Nation.”

WinStar Casino employs more than 2,500.

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