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United States v. Sioux Nations of Indians

    Brief Fact Summary. Congress took away the land of the Sioux, which had previously been given to them in perpetuity.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The 1877 Act constituted a taking of tribal property, which had been set aside for the exclusive occupation of the Sioux by the Fort Laramie Treaty. That taking implied an obligation on the part of the government to provide just compensation to the Sioux Nation.

    Facts. The Fort Laramie Treaty between the United States (Defendant) and Sioux Nation of Indians (Plaintiff) established the Great Sioux Reservation, a large tract of land. Defendant agreed that no unauthorized persons would enter the land. In exchange, Plaintiff agreed to relinquish their rights to occupy territories outside the reservation. Years later, speculation arose that the Black Hills, which were included in the Reservation contained gold and silver. Defendant allowed miners to go to the Hills. In the meantime, Congress was dissatisfied with the failure of the Sioux to become self-sufficient. Congress had to appropriate money to feed them. In 1876, Defendant entered into an agreement with Plaintiff when the Sioux would relinquish their rights to the Black Hills in exchange for subsistence rations for as long as they would be needed. The agreement was turned into an Act the next year, which abrogated the Fort Laramie Treaty.

    Issue. Is the Act a taking of the Black Hills for which just compensation was due?

    Held. Yes.
    The background of the Act reveals a situation when Congress did not purport to provide adequate consideration, nor was there any meaningful negotiation or arm’s-length bargaining, nor did Congress consider it was paying a fair price.
    There is nothing to reflect a congressional decision that the value of the rations was the equivalent of the land, but instead was an attempt to coerce the Sioux into capitulation to congressional demands. The action of Congress at the time it acquired the land, not how much it ultimately cost the government to fulfill its obligation, is controlling. So even though a large amount of money was spent over the years in providing rations that was never anticipated by Congress at the time of the Act.
    The 1877 Act affected a taking of tribal property, which had been set aside for the exclusive occupation of the Sioux by the Fort Laramie Treaty. That taking implied an obligation on the part of the government to make just compensation to the Sioux Nation.

    Dissent. It seems unfair to judge by the light of revisionist historians and land that was taken under pressure of time, which occurred more than a century ago. The Indians did not lack their share of villainy.

    Discussion. Indian lands were taken away from them in many ways. This case shows how the government took land away by not dealing in good faith with the Sioux Nation. Congress took advantage of their superior bargaining power and the hunger of the Sioux to get them to enter into the Act. This amounts to a taking requiring just compensat


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