ALS Celebrates 50th Anniversary!
Anishinabe Legal Services began as the Leech Lake Reservation Legal Services Project in 1967. The Leech Lake Reservation Legal Services Project was the first independent Native American legal services program in the country. Original funding for the program came from the United States Office of Economic Opportunity.
In 1974 the program began receiving funds from the Legal Services Corporation, expanded its service area to include the White Earth and Red Lake reservations, and changed its name to Anishinabe Legal Services. "Anishinabe" is the Ojibwe name for themselves, and means "the people."
Anishinabe Legal Services is the organization that brought Bryan v. Itasca to the United States Supreme Court resulting in the landmark 1976 decision in that case. ALS attorneys represented Helen and Russell Bryan who had received tax notices for their trailer home totaling $147.95. The tax notice was one and a half times the monthly mortgage payment on the trailer, and was due in only 30 days. The Bryan's could not afford to pay the tax.
ALS attorneys brought a class-action suit arguing that the personal property tax was unlawful because the state could not tax the personal property of Indians living on Indian land. ALS and the Bryan's did not prevail in District Court, or on appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. ALS appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court and was granted certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the of the Bryans and ALS. The Court held that Public Law 280 did not confer state civil regulatory control over Indian reservations. As a result, the Bryans' trailer home was not taxed, and the legal precedent that would allow for Indian gaming was created.
Previous Executive Director, Chris Allery, represented Fred Morgan before the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Morgan v. 2000 Volkswagen, a vehicle forefeiture case. The precedent established in that case makes Minnesota's vehicle-forfeiture law a civil/regulatory law, which the state lacks jurisdiction to enforce against Indian owners of vehicles for conduct that occurs on the owner's reservation.
In 2017, ALS staff won a tribal court appeal in favor of client for an unlawful eviction. The attorney argued that the Tribal Housing Policies were more strict than HUD requirements, and that the White Earth Tribal Housing Authority did not provide for due process when immediately evicting and boarding up client's unit. The Tribal Court of Appeals agreed with client, reversed her eviction and required the Housing Authority to renew client's lease. In addition, the Housing Authority decided to review their policies. As a result, this decision impacted more than just one client.
Today, Anishinabe Legal Services continues to help low-income individuals like the Bryans and Fred Morgan resolve their legal problems and protect their rights by providing free civil legal assistance.