Update in Agua Caliente Band v. Coachella Valley Water District

Briefs filed by the Tribe and the United States to obtain summary judgment on the water districts’ equitable defenses asserted in response to the Tribe’s claim for a declaration of its federally reserved rights to groundwater.


2015-09-18 – Dkt 137 – US Notice and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment…

2015-09-18 – Dkt 138 – ACBCI Notice and Motion for Partial Summary Judgm…

Prior materials here.

Guest Post by Bill Wood: Commentary on the Ninth Circuit (Opinion in Robinson v. Jewell) and Aboriginal Title in California (Revised)

Commentary on the Ninth Circuit (Opinion in Robinson v. Jewell) and Aboriginal Title in California

A few people emailed and texted me about this opinion and suggested I write something about it. So I’ve sketched out below some initial thoughts on certain of the court’s statements concerning the laws applicable to Indian lands and aboriginal title in California generally—which reflect and perpetuate legal and historical misunderstandings that permeate federal Indian law in California—and regarding the history of the Tejon Ranch and the Tejon Reservation (the lands at issue in the case, hereinafter “Tejon” for convenience). I’m not commenting here on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims or the lawyering (I haven’t read the briefs or the district court’s opinion). And I didn’t intend to write something this long. But I felt like I needed to provide enough detail to support my points (there are some footnotes, mostly citing historical sources, that aren’t included in this post due to technological limitations), while hopefully not getting bogged down in the particulars of the statutes and cases addressing aboriginal title in California or the histories of the military reservations established here in the 1850s and 1860s. My apologies for where I fall short in that regard or otherwise, including where things may be oversimplified.

The court notes (slip op. at 10) that the lands at issue were the subject of four different Mexican land grants that were confirmed by a commission established under an 1851 law to determine the validity of Mexican (and Spanish) land grants: the Act to Ascertain and Settle the Private Land Claims in the State of California. Pub. L. No. 31-41, 9 Stat. 631 (1851) (emphasis added). (The court calls it the California Land Claims Act of 1851, or simply the Act of 1851, conveniently omitting and ignoring the “Private Land Claims” language in the law’s title.) As the court explains (slip op. at 12; see also at 5), this 1851 Act required that “each and every person claiming lands by virtue of any right derived from the Spanish or Mexican government” (my emphasis) to present that claim to the commission by March 3, 1853, when lands for which grants were not confirmed would go into the public domain. And the court, reinforcing a jurisprudential misunderstanding dating back to the late nineteenth century, stated that “the Tribe’s failure to present a claim to the Commission pursuant to the [1851 Act] extinguished its title” (slip op. at 12), because “the Act . . . fully extinguished any existing aboriginal title or unregistered land grants” (slip op. at 16).

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Ninth Circuit Rejects Nonrecognized Kawaiisu Tribe’s Claim to Tejon Ranch

Here is the opinion in Robinson v. Jewell.

From the court’s summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claims of the Kawaiisu, a non-federally recognized Native American group, and its elected chairperson, David Laughing Horse Robinson, asserting title to the Tejon Ranch, one of the largest continuous expanses of private land in California.

The panel held that the district court properly determined that the Tribe had no ownership interest in the Tejon Ranch and that no reservation was established. Specifically, the panel held that the district court correctly concluded that the Tribe’s failure to present a claim to the Board of Commissioners created by the California Land Claims Act of 1851 extinguished its title; that the Treaty with the Utah did not convey land rights to the signatory tribes or recognize aboriginal title; and that Treaty D was never ratified and conveyed no rights. The panel rejected the Tribe’s complaints of alleged forgery and deception in obtaining patents for the four Mexican land grants comprising Tejon Ranch because all of the alleged acts occurred prior to the submission of the claims to the Board of Commissioners, and the Tribe could not challenge the validity of land patents after more than a century of time had passed.

The panel held that the claims against Kern County were subsumed into the Tejon Ranch ownership determination. The panel further held that the Tribe’s claims originally asserted against the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and Robinson’s individual claims, were waived for failure to assert them on appeal. The panel
declined to consider the Tribe’s new arguments on appeal.


Robinson Opening Brief

Kern County Brief

Tejon Mountain Village Answer Brief

US Answer Brief

Robinson Reply

Lower court materials.

Update in Agua Caliente Water Rights Case — Materials re Petition to Appeal to CA9


2015-03-16 – Phase 1 summary judgment earing transcript (original)

2015-04-13 – Dkt 10-1 – ACBCI Answer to Petition

Petition for Permission to Appeal-c2


Previous post here.

Agua Caliente Band Prevails on Winters-Based Water Rights Claim; Aboriginal Title Claim Denied

Here is the order in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District (C.D. Cal.):

115 DCT Order

Briefs are here, here, and here.


Canadian Supreme Court Issues Decision in Tsilhqot’in First Nation Land Claim

Decision here

Held: The appeal should be allowed and a declaration of Aboriginal title over the area requested should be granted. A declaration that British Columbia breached its duty to consult owed to the Tsilhqot’in Nation should also be granted.


In finding that Aboriginal title had been established in this case, the trial judge identified the correct legal test and applied it appropriately to the evidence. While the population was small, he found evidence that the parts of the land to which he found title were regularly used by the Tsilhqot’in, which supports the conclusion of sufficient occupation. The geographic proximity between sites for which evidence of recent occupation was tendered and those for which direct evidence of historic occupation existed also supports an inference of continuous occupation. And from the evidence that prior to the assertion of sovereignty the Tsilhqot’in repelled other people from their land and demanded permission from outsiders who wished to pass over it, he concluded that the Tsilhqot’in treated the land as exclusively theirs. The Province’s criticisms of the trial judge’s findings on the facts are primarily rooted in the erroneous thesis that only specific, intensively occupied areas can support Aboriginal title. Moreover, it was the trial judge’s task to sort out conflicting evidence and make findings of fact. The presence of conflicting evidence does not demonstrate palpable and overriding error. The Province has not established that the conclusions of the trial judge are unsupported by the evidence or otherwise in error. Nor has it established his conclusions were arbitrary or insufficiently precise. Absent demonstrated error, his findings should not be disturbed.

APTN story here.

CBC here.

Opening Tenth Circuit Briefs in Jemez Pueblo Land Claim

Here are the materials so far in Pueblo of Jemez v. United States:

Pueblo of Jemez Opening Brief

NCAI and AAIA Amicus Brief

AIO and ALTF Amicus Brief

Lower court materials here.