Ariz. AG: Indian tribes should have place at NAAG table

Chris Rizo Dec. 13, 2009, 1:00am

Terry Goddard (D)

Larry EchoHawk (D)

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-Recognizing that air, water and commerce don't stop flowing at tribal boundaries, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says Indian nations should be a bigger part of the national body of chief state legal officers.

About 40 chief legal officers from Indian tribes and pueblos attended this month's closed-door winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Phoenix, Ariz.

Goddard, a Democrat and probable gubernatorial candidate next year, called the meeting "groundbreaking," noting that Native American AGs have never before had such a formal presence at a NAAG meeting.

"We broke new ground in state-tribal relations," Goddard told Legal Newsline. "I hope they become a regular part of the NAAG organization," he said of the tribes.

At the meeting, former Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk, currently the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, addressed the attorneys general.

Speaking to Legal Newsline, Goddard said his office grapples with hundreds of Native American-related legal questions each month -- issues ranging from consumer protection to prosecutions to child support.

At the NAAG meeting, Goddard moderated a panel discussion, "State/Tribal Collaboration: A New Era of Cooperation."

Goddard's suggestion that Native American tribes be formally involved with NAAG is not the first.

Over the years, similar calls have been made. The issue is complex because, among other things, not all tribal AGs are elected. Some tribal chief legal officers are hired guns from private law firms, for example.

Additionally, if tribal AGs became a part of NAAG and were afforded equal billing with state AGs, it could require change in NAAG's constitution.

One NAAG insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said allowing tribal AGs a special, formal non-voting place at the NAAG table could help generate revenue for the group that could face budget difficulties as states grapple with historic revenue shortfalls.

"But this issue is so much more complicated than it seems on its face," the person said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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