Commentary on the Final Dismissal of the Onondaga Nation’s Land Claims: “Tribal Disruption and Indian Claims”

Today, the Court surprised no one by denying the cert petition in Onondaga Nation v. New York. The Court did the same thing twice before, in the claims of the Cayuga and Oneida Nations. You may recall that the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Onondaga land claims using this language: “The disruptive nature of the claims is indisputable as a matter of law.” According to the Second Circuit, all Indian land claims are too disruptive to be heard on the merits, as a matter of law.

Later this year, Kate Fort, Nick Reo, and myself will publish a short paper in the Michigan Law Review’s online supplement, First Impressions, titled “Tribal Disruption and Indian Claims.” It is our intention to demonstrate that even the most disruptive tribal claims are beneficial to the governance of Indians and non-Indians alike on or near Indian country. We will expand this nub of an idea in a full-scale paper next year. We also thank Wenona Singel for her significant intellectual contributions to this idea.

Here is an excerpt:

We agree that Indian claims are inherently disruptive, and may implicate the settled expectations of state and local governments and non-Indians going back centuries, but it is empirically and categorically false that the remedies sought by tribal interests are impossible to enforce or implement in a fair or equitable manner. Every year Indian tribes settle long-standing claims against state governments and their political subdivisions that at their outset often appear intractable, if not downright impossible to remedy. The recent settlement of claims by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York,[1] the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe,[2] and five Michigan Anishinaabe tribes[3] demonstrates the falsehood that Indian claims are too disruptive to be remedied. These negotiated settlements powerfully illustrate that the disruption produced by Indian claims has an important function, forcing federal, state, and tribal governments to creatively seek solutions to difficult governance issues in Indian country.

We argue that ecological disruption theory offers a useful analog to the disruptive nature of Indian claims. These claims can be compared to disturbances in rivers, forests or other ecosystems. Floods, forest fire, and windstorms break down existing structures, allowing space for reorganization, diversification and new growth. Tribal claims similarly clear out a legal space for creative and improved governance institutions.


[1] See Settlement Agreement by the Oneida Nation, the State of New York, the County of Madison, and the County of Oneida (May 2013), available at https://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/142783486-oneida-indian-nation-settlement-agreement.pdf.

[2] See Joint Motion to Enter Order for Judgment Upon Completion of a Public Comment Period and Opportunity For the Parties To Respond, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan v. Granholm, No. 05-10296-BC (E.D. Mich., Nov. 9, 2010), available at https://turtletalk.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/saginaw-chippewa-reservation-boundaries-settlement-materials/.

[3] See Consent Decree, United States v. Michigan, No. 2:73-cv-00026-RAE (W.D. Mich., Nov. 2, 2007), available at https://turtletalk.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/inland-settlement-consent-decree-materials/.

IPR: Emmet County Bear Hunting Conviction Overturned (Mich. Inland Treaty Rights Implications)

Here is the unpublished opinion in People v. Levigne:

Mich COA Opinion

And the IPR report.

An excerpt:

The Michigan Court of Appeals says it was legal for hunting guides to help with an off-season bear hunt in Emmet County back in September of 2010. The guides were assisting Todd Yoder, an American Indian hunter.

For Yoder, the hunt was clearly legal because of tribal hunting and fishing rights. But his two assistants are not Native American, and by their own admission, their help was vital to the success of the hunt. Their dogs ran the bear up a tree, where it was shot. Emmet County court found the guides, William McNeight and Blaine Levigne, guilty of “taking” a bear in the off-season.

But this week an appeals panel reversed that decision. The judges say the state law that applies to this case says the “taking” of an animal involves a firearm, crossbow, or bow and arrow. So the guides could help, they just couldn’t shoot.