Tribal Property

Tribal rights in islands deemed not to include riparian and fishing rights in surrounding waters

in Penobscot Nation v. Mills, 2017  U.S. App. LEXIS 11704 (1st Cir. 2017), the First Circuit held (over a vigorous dissent by Judge Torruella), that the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, 25 U.S.C. §1722(i) and the Maine Implementing Act, Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 30, § 6203(8), confirmed ownership of islands to the Penobscot Nation but no rights in the surrounding...

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States may not take tribal land by eminent domain

Lands owned by Indian nations and held in trust status cannot be taken by the states by eminent domain, although federal statutory authority allows states to take "allotments" held by the United States in trust for individual tribal citizens for public purposes including utility easements. 25 U.S.C. §357. The Tenth Circuit has held that if the tribe (in this case the Navajo Nation) owns a fractional interest in an allotment, then the state (or its service companies) cannot use eminent domain power to take a utility easement from those allotment owners.... Read more about States may not take tribal land by eminent domain

Tribal sovereign immunity precludes tax foreclosure action against tribe

The Supreme Court's recent reaffirmation of the long-standing rule that that Indian nations have sovereign immunity from suit in the absence of waiver by the tribe or abrogation by Congress, Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty., 134 S.Ct. 2024 (2014),  led the Second Circuit to reaffirm its earlier decision to deny a county the power to foreclose on tribal land for failure to pay state property taxes....

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Tribal sovereign immunity prevents state foreclosure for failure to pay state property taxes

Applying the standards set down by the Second Circuit in Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison County, 605 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2010, a federal district in New York affirmed that a county could not foreclose on tribal land for nonpayment of state property taxes on the ground that the tribe has sovereign immunity that it has not waived and that has not been abrogated by federal law. Cayuga Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Seneca County, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117245 (W.D.N.Y. 2012).

Native Alaskan family awarded $4.9 million in damages for trespass

A federal judge awarded the Oenga family of Barrow, Alaska $4.9 million dollars in damages against the United States because the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) authorized BP oil company to cross the Oenga's property to obtain access to 3 of BP's oil fields when the family had only granted permission for access to one of those fields. Judge Awards Alaskan family $5M (U.S. News, Feb. 9, 2001)

While the case is, in some sense, an ordinary trespass case, it is...

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United States supports the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

President Barack Obama announced on December 16, 2010 that the United States would join more than 140 other countries in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That Declaration supports the rights of indigenous peoples to protection of their property, cultures, and religious traditions, as well as guaranteeing self-determination. A detailed statement explaining U.S. support for the Declaration is available here.

US Supreme Court takes cert in tribal tax foreclosure case

In City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), the Supreme Court ruled that too much time had passed for the Oneida Indian Nation to assert sovereignty over land that was illegally taken from it by the state of New York in the early 19th century. Although the transfer of title from the tribe to the state violated the federal Trade and Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. §177, and thus was of no validity whatsoever and although...

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$3.4 billion settlement in Cobell litigation involving federal mismanagement of individual tribal trust lands

In the late  19th century, the United States took lands from American Indian nations and transferred them to individual tribal members. Those lands were often managed by the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) which would arrange to lease the lands for grazing and mining purposes. The U.S. was supposed to pay the royalties to the Indian owners but often did not do so and over time many records were lost. Twenty years of litigation has ended with a settlement by which the US will pay $1.4 billion to class members (roughly $1000 per person) and in addition...

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