SCOUTING YESTERDAY: Sioux tribe’s lawsuit against feds largest in U.S. history, dispute still unresolved today
This week in South Dakota history: May 10-16
The Sioux Nation has filed the largest suit ever in any court, according to The Mellette County Pioneer. The suit contends the United States unlawfully modified terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
Article XII of the treaty specified the terms which would allow for modifications, “No treaty for the cession of any portion or part of the reservation… shall be of any validity… unless executed and signed by at least three fourths of all the adult male Indians.” Following Gen. Custer’s expedition’s 1874 discovery of gold in the Black Hills, the U.S. modified the 1868 treaty, placing the Black Hills in government possession. The Sioux claimed that only 10 percent agreed to the new terms, passed into law by Congress in 1877.
According to the Washington Post, no legal means of disputing the 1877 terms existed until 1920, allowing the Sioux to file in the Court of Claims. The case, brought forward in May of 1923, remained in the Court of Claims until 1942 when it was thrown out for technical reasons.
In 1946 the Indian Claims Commission was established to examine cases like the Sioux’s. Four years later the commission ruled against the Sioux. The Sioux appealed the decision in the Court of Claims and won. The court returned the case to the commission. The case would eventually be won by the Sioux when the commission awarded the 1877 value of the land but did not award interest that had accrued since then. The Sioux appealed the decision.
A law passed by Congress in 1978 allowed the Claims Court to take up the case again. Under the new law the Sioux were able to claim the land taken violated Fifth Amendment taking. The new law and cases that followed eventually led to the 1980 Supreme Court case, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, where it was ruled that the government had unjustly taken the land and awarded the 1877 land value of $17 million, value of gold taken at $450,000 and 100 years of interest at the value of $105 million.
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