United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians

Facts of the Case

Under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the United States had originally pledged that the Great Sioux Reservation, including the Black Hills, would be set aside for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Sioux Indian Nation. The treaty also provided that no treaty for the cession of any portion of the reservation would be valid unless signed by at least three fourths of the adult male Sioux. In 1876, after gold was discovered in the Black Hills, a special Commission representing the United States presented a new treaty to the Sioux under which the Sioux were to relinquish their rights to the Black Hills in exchange for subsistence rations for as long as they would be needed to ensure survival of the Sioux. The treaty was signed by only 10 percent of the adult male Sioux population, but Congress resolved the impasse in 1877 by enacting the agreement into law, thereby abrogating the Fort Laramie Treaty.


(1) Was Congress’ 1978 amendment a violation of separation of powers?(2) Was the reclamation of land in 1877 a taking of property requiring compensation under the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment?


No and yes. In an 8-1 decision, the Court held that Congress did not violate the doctrine of separation of powers and affirmed the Court of Claims decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Harry A. Blackmun noted a similar situation in Nock v. United States , where a congressional exemption from a judicial bar was ruled not to be in violation of separation of powers and upheld by the Court. Additionally, since Congress had not made a good-faith effort to give the Sioux the full value of the Black Hills, Congress’ 1877 action qualified as use of its eminent domain power under Three Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation v. United States . Therefore, the Sioux were entitled to compensation under the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Justice Byron R. White wrote an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment.

Case Information

  • Citation: 448 US 371 (1980)
  • Argued: Mar 24, 1980
  • Decided Jun 30, 1980