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Court Cases

Includes brief summaries of important U.S. Supreme Court cases related to allotment and Indian land tenure and contains links to the full text of court decisions after 1893.

Limits the authority of the secretary of interior to take lands into trust under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The Court held that the term “now” in the phrase “now under federal jurisdiction” limits the authority of the secretary to only take land in trust for Indian tribes that were under federal jurisdiction in June 1934, the date the IRA was enacted.

A settlement is reached, totaling close to $4 billion. Under the agreement, $1.4 billion will be distributed to Indian plaintiffs involved in the case, and $2 billion dollars will be placed in a fund to buy back fractionated interests.

The Court ruling dismisses the Nation’s assertion of a breach of fiduciary duty by the secretary of the interior, arising from his failure promptly to approve a royalty rate increase under a coal lease the Nation executed in 1964.

The Court ruled that the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 and its regulations do not constitute the substantive source of law necessary to establish specific trust duties which mandate compensation for breach of those duties by the federal government.

The Court held that state and local governments may impose ad valorem taxes on reservation land that was made alienable by Congress and sold to non-Indians, but was later repurchased by the Band.

An act opening up “surplus land” left over from the allotment of Indian lands is evidence of congressional intent to “diminish” a reservation. Therefore, the Court held, non-Indian owned fee land that was ceded pursuant to a surplus act is not subject to federal environmental regulations even though the land may lie within the original boundaries of the reservation.

The Court held that section 207 of the amended Indian Land Consolidation Act that forced escheat of certain individually-owned Indian property to a tribe is unconstitutional.

Court ruled that a county can assess ad valorem taxes on reservation land owned in fee by individual Indians or the tribe that had originally been made alienable when patented under the General Allotment Act.

Court held that the tribe does not have any authority to zone or regulate fee lands owned by non-members within the opened areas of the reservation. The ruling has important implications for the management of and jurisdiction over checkerboard reservations and the closed areas of the reservations.

The Court ruled that the grant to civil jurisdiction under P.L. 280 does not include regulatory authority; therefore, the state laws relating to gaming cannot be enforced against Indians.

Deals with the original section 207 of the Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983, which states that undivided fractional interests in allotments that are less than two percent of the total acreage of a tract or earn less than $100 for the owner during the previous year shall revert to the tribe upon the death of the interest owner, regardless of whether the deceased owner made a will and had legal heirs. The Court held that this provision is unconstitutional.

The Court held that a 12-year limitation period of the Quiet Title Act of 1972 bars a civil suit being brought against the United States over the sale of allotments completed without the notification of the interest holder.

The Court held that the United States is accountable in money damages for alleged breaches of trust in connection with its management of forest resources on allotted lands of the Quinault Reservation. The court held the United States subject to suit for money damages on most of respondents' claims, ruling that the federal timber management statutes, various other federal statutes governing road building, rights of way, Indian funds, and government fees, and the regulations promulgated under these statutes impose fiduciary duties upon the United States in its management of forested allotted lands.

The Court ruled that a tribe’s regulation of non-Indian hunting on non-Indian land within a reservation is inconsistent with a tribe’s status as a dependent domestic nation.

The Court ruled that the Sioux must be awarded compensation with interest for the U.S. confiscation of the Black Hills.  (Despite the ruling, the Great Sioux Nation, which never willingly relinquished title to the land, has refused to take the monetary settlement.)

The Court held that Title 25 U.S.C. § 357 (based on the Act of March 3, 1901), which provides that lands allotted in severalty to Indian people may be "condemned" for any public purpose under the laws of the state or territory where located, does not authorize a state or local government to "condemn" allotted Indian trust lands by physical occupation.

The Court upheld the validity of the exercise of Washington State jurisdiction over Yakima Reservation. The Court also asserted that the “checkerboard” pattern of jurisdiction is not, on its face, invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The Court struck down tribal jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians on reservations.

The Court granted the existence of tribal sovereignty, but declares this sovereignty is subject to Congressional whim.

The Court held that the Northern Cheyenne Allotment Act of 1926 does not give the allottees of surface lands vested rights in the mineral deposits underlying those lands.

The Court held that aboriginal title “is not a property right but amounts to a right of occupancy which the sovereign grants and … may be terminated and such lands fully disposed of by the sovereign itself without any legally enforceable obligation to compensate the Indians.”

The Court upheld ad valorem taxes on Indian lands once the lands become alienable. 

The Court ruled that treaties may be unilaterally breached or modified by Congress.  The Court also restricted its review of political acts of Congress affecting the federal trust responsibility to Indians. As a result, the “plenary power” of Congress over Indian people is further asserted.

1886, United States v. Kagama

The Court upheld Congress’ authority to pass the Major Crimes Act, holding that the U.S. federal government has “plenary power” or supreme, absolute control over Indian people.

1883, Ex Parte Crow Dog

The Court ruled that the murder of one Indian person by another within Indian Country is not a criminal offense punishable by the United States. Indian tribes in their territory are free of regulation by other sovereign governments absent explicit direction from Congress.

1835, Mitchel v. United States

One of several 19th century court cases confirming that the doctrine of discovery did not give “discovering” nations, or the United States as a successor in interest, title to Native lands and resources.

1832, Worcester v. Georgia

The third case in the Marshall Trilogy. The Supreme Court held that state laws do not extend into Indian Country because they are incompatible with treaties, the Constitution and the laws “giving effect to the treaties.”

1831, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

The second case in the Marshall Trilogy.  The Court found that the Cherokee Nation is not a “foreign state” but a “domestic dependent nation” and that “their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” Dictum in the case also affirms the validity of treaties with tribes.

1823, Johnson v. M’Intosh

The first of the three Supreme Court cases referred to as the Marshall Trilogy.  The Court ruled that Indian tribes cannot convey land to private parties without the consent of the federal government. The Court reasoned that European discovery and the establishment of the United States diminishes the rights of tribes to complete sovereignty and also diminishes tribes' power to dispose of their land.

1810, Fletcher v. Peck

Chief Justice Marshall uses the term “title” to refer to the Indian right of ownership of land and asserts that Indian people have all the rights of ownership except for the right to dispose of the land to any other European country.

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