Oneida tribe wins closely watched Wisconsin legal fight

MADISON, Wis. — A federal appeals court on Thursday sided with the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin in its fight over a village’s authority to require a special events permit for an apple festival, in a case that could have wide-ranging impacts across the U.S.

While the lawsuit on its face was about whether the tribe needed a permit for its annual Big Apple Fest, the underlying issue was tribal sovereignty. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling in favor of Hobart, saying “the Village lacks jurisdiction to apply its ordinance to the Nation’s on‐reservation activities.”

The tribe had support from the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. government, the National Congress of American Indians and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation in its appeal of U.S. District Judge William Griesbach’s 2019 ruling. He found that because much of the Oneida reservation had been sold over the years, the reservation itself was diminished, meaning that the festival had been held off the reservation, thereby subjecting the tribe to village rules.

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