The National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) has issued a decision indicating that the Chickasaw Nation can operate outside the confines of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because it is a sovereign Indian nation with legal protections based on its treaties with the United States.

“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,” according to the Board’s decision and order, issued June 4. “As a result, we decline to assert jurisdiction over the Nation, the Respondent here.”

The case centered on whether the Chickasaw Nation, as the operator of the Tribe’s WinStar World Casino, was subject to the NLRB’s jurisdiction and, if it was subject to jurisdiction, whether it violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA when tribal leaders told casino employees that because of the Tribe’s sovereignty, the employees did not have the protection of the federal labor law regime.

The Nation’s 1830 treaty with the United States contained strong pro-tribal sovereignty language, which the NLRB indicated was crucial to the decision. “[N]o 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 further noted in the decision, “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.”