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Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. An American Indian group sought compensation for a taking by the federal government of forest timber from a piece of land used by the group.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The taking or use of American Indian land does not require any compensation by the government.

    Facts. The Tee-Hit-Tons are a group of American Indians who reside in Alaska. They claims to have a full proprietary ownership, or in the alternative, a recognized right to unrestricted possession, of land within the Tongass National Forest, located in Alaska because their tribal predeccesors have continuously occupied the land. The government sold timber from the forest, and the Tee-Hit-Tons claimed a right to compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The government denies that the group has any compensable interest in the land; their right to the land is solely from the government’s will.

    Issue. Do Native Americans have any permanent right to land they occupy by the permission of the government?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    Congress has never given American Indians any permanent rights to land they occupy. The discovery and conquest of America extinguished any ownership rights of American Indians.
    American Indians have no constitutional right to compensation for the government’s use and taking of their land because the government is the title holder. American Indians merely have permission to live on the land. The government has made provisions to allow them recovery for wrongs as a matter of grace, not because of legal liability.

    Discussion. Because American Indians do not have any constitutional right to own the land they live on, they have no right to compensation when the government uses the land.


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