430 U.S. 584 (1977), 75-562, Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip

Docket Nº:No. 75-562
Citation:430 U.S. 584, 97 S.Ct. 1361, 51 L.Ed.2d 660
Party Name:Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip
Case Date:April 04, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 584

430 U.S. 584 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1361, 51 L.Ed.2d 660

Rosebud Sioux Tribe



No. 75-562

United States Supreme Court

April 4, 1977

Argued January 12, 1977




Both the language and legislative history of the Acts of 1904, 1907, and 1910, whereby land in certain counties in South Dakota located within the boundaries of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation as defined in an 1889 Treaty was required to be ceded by the Reservation Indians to the Government for sale to settlers under the homestead and townsite laws with the proceeds to be credited to the Indians only as received or, with respect to certain parcels, for transfer to South Dakota for school use, held clearly to evidence a congressional intent to diminish the boundaries of the Reservation. Although such Acts were unilateral Acts of Congress without the consent of three-fourths of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's adult male members, as was required by the original 1868 Treaty establishing the Reservation, that fact does not directly bear on the question whether Congress, by these later Acts, intended to diminish the Reservation boundaries. Nor is it conclusive with respect to congressional intent that these Acts changed the method of payment from an outright, fixed-sum payment to the Indians required by a 1901 Agreement that would have amended the 1889 Treaty and would have resulted in a diminution of the Reservation boundaries, but which, although approved by three-fourths of the Tribe's adult male members, was never ratified by Congress. Pp. 586-615.

521 F.2d 87, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEWART, JJ., joined, post, p. 615.

Page 585

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In June, 1972, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe sued in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota to obtain a declaratory judgment that the original boundaries of their reservation, as defined in the Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 888, had not been diminished by three subsequent Acts of Congress passed in 1904, 1907, and 1910 respectively.1 The District Court, noting that,

[f]rom the time these acts were passed, these [four] counties have been treated as outside the Rosebud Sioux Reservation by the settlers, their descendants, the State of South Dakota and the federal courts,

375 F.Supp. 1065, 1084, denied relief. It concluded that Congress had intended to diminish the Reservation so as to exclude the four counties in South Dakota affected by the 1904, the 1907, and the 1910 Acts. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in a careful and comprehensive opinion, affirmed the judgment of the District Court. 521 F.2d 87. We granted certiorari, 425 U.S. 989, to review this determination in the light of our recent decisions in DeCoteau v. District County Court, 420 U.S. 425 (1975), and Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481 (1973). Since we conclude that the three Acts

Page 586

of Congress in question satisfy the requirement that

[a] congressional determination to terminate [an Indian reservation] must be expressed on the face of the Act or be clear from the surrounding circumstances [97 S.Ct. 1363] and legislative history,

Mattz v. Arnett, supra at 505, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


When established, the Rosebud Indian Reservation contained somewhat over 3.2 million acres, and covered all or a portion of what later became five counties in South Dakota: Gregory, Tripp, Lyman, Mellette, and Todd. The three Acts we are asked to construe successively disposed of all unallotted lands in Gregory County (1904 Act), in Tripp and Lyman Counties (1907 Act), and in Mellette County (1910 Act). Only Todd County remains unaffected by these post-1889 enactments. The contention of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is that these Acts, while opening up the unallotted land outside of Todd County to non-Indian settlement, did not thereby change the Reservation boundaries, which continued to encompass these five counties.

In determining whether or not the 1889 Reservation boundaries were subsequently diminished by congressional enactments, we are guided by well established legal principles. The underlying premise is that congressional intent will control. DeCoteau v. District County Court, supra at 444, 449; United States v. Celestine, 215 U.S. 278, 285 (1909). In determining this intent, we are cautioned to follow

the general rule that "[d]oubtful expressions are to be resolved in favor of the weak and defenseless people who are the wards of the nation, dependent upon its protection and good faith."

McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Comm'n, 411 U.S. 164, 174 (1973), quoting Carpenter v. Shaw, 280 U.S. 363, 367 (1930); see also Mattz v. Arnett, supra at 505. The mere fact that a reservation has been opened to settlement does not necessarily mean that the opened area has lost its reservation

Page 587

status. Mattz v. Arnett, supra; see also Seymour v. Superintendent, 368 U.S. 351 (1962). But the "general rule" does not command a determination that reservation status survives in the face of congressionally manifested intent to the contrary. DeCoteau v. District County Court, supra. In all cases, "the face of the Act," the "surrounding circumstances," and the "legislative history," are to be examined with an eye toward determining what congressional intent was. Mattz v. Arnett, supra at 505.

Applying these principles to the facts of this case, we conclude that the Acts of 1904, 1907, and 1910 did clearly evidence congressional intent to diminish the boundaries of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. The parties agree that an amendment to the 1889 Treaty, which provided for a fixed-sum payment and which was approved by three-fourths of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's adult males in 1901, would have resulted in the diminution of the Rosebud Reservation boundaries. Congress did not, however, approve the 1901 amendment to the Treaty which the Tribe had ratified. The Tribe contends that, lacking tribal ratification and a fixed-sum provision, the later Acts were ineffectual to accomplish this same result. In the Tribe's view, the absence of these two factors vitally distinguishes the Acts in question from the otherwise similar Act examined in DeCoteau v. District County Court, supra. Because of the reasons hereafter set forth in greater detail, we conclude that, although the Acts of 1904, 1907, and 1910 were unilateral Acts of Congress without the consent of three-quarters of the members of the tribe required by the original Treaty,2 that fact does not have any direct bearing on the question of whether Congress, by these later Acts, did intend to diminish the Reservation boundaries. By the time of

Page 588

the first of these Acts, in 1904, Congress was aware of the decision [97 S.Ct. 1364] of this Court in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (1903), which held that Congress possessed the authority to abrogate unilaterally the provisions of an Indian treaty. We also conclude that the changed method of payment is not conclusive with respect to congressional intent. Although the later Acts of Congress made less secure provisions for payment to the Tribe for the lands in question than did the 1901 Treaty, their language with respect to the reservation status of the opened lands was identical with or derivative from the language used in that proposed amendment.3 The language was also substantially equivalent to that used in the executed agreement involved in DeCoteau. We agree with the Court of Appeals and the District Court that this language not only opened the land for settlement, but diminished the boundaries of the Reservation pro tanto.4

Page 589


The Rosebud Sioux are one of the tribes of Indians of the Sioux Nation. The Treaty of April 29, 1868, 15 Stat. 635, set aside all the land in South Dakota west of the Missouri River as the Great Sioux Reservation, consisting of some 25 million acres. Article 12 of the Treaty provided that no subsequent treaty for the cession of any part of the reservation would be valid without the written consent of three-fourths of the adult male Indians on the reservation. Despite this provision, in 1877, approximately 7.5 million acres, consisting of the Black Hills portion of the Great Sioux Reservation, were removed from the Reservation by the Act of February 28, 1877, 19 Stat. 254. See Sioux Tribe of Indians v. United States, 97 Ct.Cl. 613 (1942), cert. denied, 318 U.S. 789 (1943). Of the remaining Reservation, approximately one-half was "restored to the public domain" under the Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 896, § 21,5 while six separate Reservations were carved out of the remainder, §§ 1-6. Section 2 set apart the Rosebud Reservation, encompassing what were later organized as three full counties (Todd, Mellette, and Tripp), a major portion of Gregory County, and a small portion of Lyman.6 This Reservation, as originally delimited, contained over 3.2 [97 S.Ct. 1365] million acres.

Page 590

Around the turn of the century, the "familiar forces" to which we referred in DeCoteau v. District County Court led to demands to open up the Reservation.7 A provision in the Indian Department Appropriation Act, Mar. 3, 1901, 31 Stat. 1077, provided:

[T]he Secretary of the Interior be, and he is hereby, authorized, in his discretion, to negotiate, through any United States Indian inspector, agreements with any Indians for the cession to the United States of portions of their respective reservations or surplus unallotted lands, any agreements thus negotiated to...

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