Peoria Tribe of Indians v. United States

PETITIONER: Peoria Tribe of Indians
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Lafayette Diner

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 390 US 468 (1968)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Peoria Tribe of Indians v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1968 in Peoria Tribe of Indians v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 219, The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma et al., Petitioners, versus the United States.

Mr. Joseph.

Jack Joseph:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Peoria Indians the petitioners here recovered a judgment for approximately the amount of $172,000 before the Indian Claims Commissions by reason of the fact that the United States had failed to comply with provisions of Article 4 of the Treaty of May 30, 1854 to sell the petitioners' lands at a public auctions and instead had sold them at fixed prices thus returning the Indians a smaller award.

The government did not appeal from this judgment, but the petitioners did appeal because we contend we are -- that the petitioners are entitled to an additional award measured by interest by reason of the failure of the United States to comply with the provisions of Article 7 of that same treaty requiring that the $172,000 which should have been realized be invested.

The appeal that we took to the United States Court of Claims under the provisions of the Indian Claims Commission Act resulted in a decision adverse to us with three judges writing majority opinion, opinion by Chief Judge Cowen and there was a dissenting opinion of two judges, written by Judge Davis, taking the view that we were entitled to the relief which we sought.

Now the facts in this case are relatively simple and they have been established by the decision of the Indian Claims Commission as affirmed by the Court of Claims and they're as follows.

On and prior to May 30, 1854 Peoria Indians owned a small tract of land on the eastern boundary of Kansas.

On that date, the Kansas-Nebraska Act became effective which opened up Kansas to settlement by non-Indians.

On that same day, this treaty with the petitioners was made wherein the Indians and the United States agreed that the Indians would convey their lands to the United States, the United States would sell them at a public auction for the benefit of the petitioners.

Earl Warren:

Did you say how many Indians there were in this group?

Jack Joseph:

No, I haven't --

Earl Warren:

It's alright I just thought you said something as to the number, it is important part?

Jack Joseph:

Upon the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the non-Indians moved over into Kansas and squatted on the lands including the lands of the petitioner.

The squatters pressured -- put pressure upon the government to buy these lands under the Public Land Laws which entitled the first settler on a tract of land to purchase that land for a fixed price under the land laws prevailing at that time and the fixed price was a $1.25.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs requested the Attorney General of the United States an opinion as to whether or not it would be proper to sell to the squatters on the Peoria lands, the tracts on which they had squatted under the preemption statutes, and the Attorney General of course answered that it would be a violation of the treaty, a breach of trust and a fraud upon the Indians because the bargain which the Indians had made was for a public auction.

Despite the Attorney General's statement or opinion, official opinion, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs expressly instructed that the land be sold in a such a way as to give the squatters on it the right to buy it at fixed price, the equivalent of preemption rights.

The Indians Claims Commission found that had the lands been sold under a public auction, the way the Indians had agreed that a $172,000 approximately additional would have been realized than was actually realized and the judgment which was entered here was for that amount.

Now, it is our position that under Article 7 of this treaty, we should have had an additional award measured by interest.

Article 7 which is reprinted several times in the briefs among other places on page 2, says in part, “And as the amount of the annual receipts from the sale of the lands cannot now be ascertained, it is agreed that the President may from time to time and upon consultation with the Indians determine how much of the net proceeds of such sales shall be paid to them and how much shall be invested in safe and profitable stocks, the interest to be annually paid to them or expanded for their benefit and improvement.”

In two cases decided by this Court past Mille Lac and the Blackfeather cases which are cited on our brief, this Court held that provisions to return income from the Indians capital in land sales applied in a -- to proceeds which should have been realized as well as those which were actually realized.

Petitioners believe that the decision of the Court in those cases is in accord with the traditional principle contract law and should have been applied by the Court of Claims in this case.

Potter Stewart:

Which were those two cases?

Jack Joseph:

The Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa case and the United States versus Blackfeather.

Potter Stewart:


United States against Blackfeather and Mille?

Jack Joseph:

Mille Lac, M-I-L-L-E L-A-C.

Potter Stewart:

Thousand Lakes?

Jack Joseph:

That's right.

Potter Stewart:

Thank you.