Coteau v. Erickson v. Feather 8212 1148, 73 8212 1500

Decision Date03 March 1975
Docket NumberNos. 73,s. 73
PartiesCheryl Spider DeCOTEAU, Natural Mother and Next Friend of Robert Lee Feather and Herbert John Spider, etc., Petitioner, v. . Don R. ERICKSON, Warden, Petitioner, v. John Lee FEATHER et al. —1148, 73—1500
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota, created by an 1867 treaty, held terminated and returned to the public domain by an 1891 Act which, in ratification of a previously negotiated 1889 Agreement between the affected Indian tribe and the United States, not only opened all unallotted lands to settlement but also appropriated and vested in the tribe a sum certain per acre in payment for the express cession and relinquishment of 'all' of the tribe's 'claim, right, title, and interest' in the unallotted lands; and therefore the South Dakota state courts have civil and criminal jurisdiction over conduct of members of the tribe on the non-Indian, unallotted lands within the 1867 reservation borders. The face of the Act and its surrounding circumstances and legislative history all point unmistakably to this conclusion. Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 37 L.Ed.2d 92, and Seymour v. Superintendent, 368 U.S. 351, 82 S.Ct. 424, 7 L.Ed.2d 346, distinguished. Pp. 1086—1095.

No. 73—1148, 87 S.D. —-, 211 N.W.2d 843, affirmed; No. 73 1500, 8 Cir., 489 F.2d 99, reversed.

Bertram E. Hirsch, New York City, for petitioner Cheryl Spider DeCoteau.

William F. Day, Jr., Winner, S.D., for respondent District County Court and petitioner Don R. Erickson.

Harry R. Sachse, New Orleans, La., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Larry R. Gustafson, Britton, S.D., for respondents John Lee Feather et al.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases, consolidated for decision, raise the single question whether the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota, created by an 1867 treaty between the United States and the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Sioux Indians, was terminated and returned to

[Amicus Curiae Information from page 426 intentionally omitted] the public domain, by the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 543, 26 Stat. 1035. In each of the two cases, the South Dakota courts asserted jurisdiction over members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe for acts done on lands which, though within the 1867 reservation borders, have been owned and settled by non-Indians since the 1891 Act. The parties agree that the state courts did not have jurisdiction if these lands are 'Indian country,' as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151,1 and that this question depends upon whether the lands retained reservation status after 1891.2 We hold, for the reasons that follow, that the 1891 Act terminated the Lake Traverse Reservation, and that consequently the state courts have jurisdiction over conduct on non-Indian lands within the 1867 reservation borders.


The 1867 boundaries of the Lake Traverse Reservation enclose approximately 918,000 acres of land. Within the 1867 boundaries, there reside about 3,000 tribal members and 30,000 non-Indians. About 15% of the land is in the form of 'Indian trust allotments'; these are individual land tracts retained by members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe when the rest of the reservation lands were sold to the United States in 1891. The trust allotments are scattered in a random pattern throughout the 1867 reservation area. The remainder of the reservation land was purchased from the United States by non-Indian settlers after 1891, and is presently inhabited by non-Indians.

It is common ground here that Indian conduct occurring on the trust allotments is beyond the State's jurisdiction, being instead the proper concern of tribal or federal authorities. In the two cases before us, however, the State asserted jurisdiction over Indians based on conduct occurring on non-Indian, unallotted land within the 1867 Reservation borders.

The petitioner in No. 73—1148, Cheryl Spider DeCoteau, is the natural mother of Herbert John Spider and Robert Lee Feather; all are enrolled members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe. Both children have been assigned to foster homes by order of the respondent District County Court for the Tenth Judicial District of South Dakota. The petitioner gave Robert up for adoption in March of 1971, and Herbert was later separated from her through neglect and dependency proceedings in the respondent court, initiated by the State Welfare Depart- ment. On August 31, 1972, the petitioner commenced a habeas corpus action in a state court, alleging that the respondent had lacked jurisdiction to order her children separated from her and asking that they be released from the custodial process of the respondent. After a hearing, the State Circuit Court denied the writ, finding that the respondent had possessed jurisdiction because 'the non-Indian patented land, upon which a portion of the acts or omissions giving rise to the Order of the District County Court occurred, is not within Indian Country.'3 While acknowledging that this non-Indian patented land is within the 1867 boundaries of the Lake Traverse Reservation, the court noted that the tribe 'had sold or relinquished (the non-Indian land in question) to the United States under the terms of the agreement which was ratified by acts of Congress, March 3, 1891.' The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed,4 upon the ground that the 1891 Act ratified an 1889 Agreement by which

'the Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands of Indians sold their unallotted lands, and the United States Government paid a sum certain for each and every acre purchased. . . . This, then, was an outright cession and sale of lands by the Indians to the United States. The land sold was separated from the reservation by Congress and became part of the public domain.'5

The relators in No. 73—1500 are enrolled members of the tribe who were convicted in South Dakota courts of various violations of the State's penal laws committed on non-Indian lands within the 1867 reservation boundaries. The relators, in the custody of a state penitentiary, separately petitioned for writs of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, alleging that the state courts had lacked criminal jurisdiction over their conduct within the 1867 reservation boundaries. The District Court summarily denied the petitions, but the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed.6 In DeMarrias v. South Dakota, 319 F.2d 845, that court had previously held that the 1891 Act had terminated the Lake Traverse Reservation leaving only allotted Indian lands within tribal or federal jurisdiction. But in the present case the Court of Appeals overruled its DeMarrias decision, finding it inconsistent with the principles of statutory construction established by this Court in Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 37 L.Ed.2d 92, and Seymour v. Superintendent, 368 U.S. 351, 82 S.Ct. 424, 7 L.Ed.2d 346. The Court of Appeals accordingly held that '(t)he boundaries of the Lake Traverse Indian reservation remain as they were established in 1867. The scene of the alleged crimes is, therefore, within Indian country. South Dakota had no jurisdiction to try appellants.' 489 F.2d 99, 103.

We granted certiorari in the two cases, 417 U.S. 929, 94 S.Ct. 2638, 41 L.Ed.2d 232, to resolve the conflict between the Supreme Court of South Dakota and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit as to the effect of the 1891 Act on South Dakota's civil and criminal jurisdiction over unallotted lands within the 1867 reservation boundaries.


When the Sioux Nation rebelled against the United States in 1862, the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of the Nation remained loyal to the Federal Government, many members serving as 'scouts' for federal troops. This loyalty went unrecognized, however, when the Government confiscated the Sioux lands after the rebellion. In a belated act of gratitude, the United States entered into a treaty with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe in 1867. The treaty granted the tribe a permanent reservation in the Lake Traverse area, and provided for tribal self-government under the supervision of federal agents.7

But familiar forces soon began to work upon the Lake Traverse Reservation. A nearby and growing population of white farmers, merchants, and railroad men began urging authorities in Washington to open the reservation to general settlement. The Indians, suffering from disease and bad harvests, developed an increasing need for cash and direct assistance.8

Meanwhile, the Government [had] altered its general policy toward the Indian tribes. After 1871, the tribes were no longer regarded as sovereign nations, and the Government began to regulate their affairs through statute or through contractual agreements ratified by statute.9

In 1887, the General Allotment Act (or Dawes Act) was enacted in an attempt of reconcile the Government's reponsibility for the Indian's welfare with the desire of non-Indians to settle upon reservation lands .10

The Act empowered the President to allot portions of reservation land to tribal members and, woth tribal consent, to sell the surplus lands to white settlers, with the proceeds of these sales being dedicated to the Indians' benefit. See Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S., at 496-497, 93 S.Ct., at 2253.

Against this background, a series for negotiations took place in 1889 with the objective of opening the Lake Traverse Reservation to settlement. In April of that year, a South Dakota banker, D.W. Diggs, sent to the Secretary of the Interior a request on behalf of the local whtie community that reservation lands be made available for commerce, farming, and railroad development.11

In May, Diggs met with a council of tribal leaders, who told him that the tribe would consider selling...

To continue reading

Request your trial
292 cases
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. State of SD
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • March 31, 1989
    ...of the 1904 Act was other than to disestablish. Id. at 604-05, 97 S.Ct. at 1372-73; see also DeCoteau v. District County Court, 420 U.S. 425, 442, 95 S.Ct. 1082, 1091, 43 L.Ed. 2d 300 (1975); Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U.S. 463, 471, 104 S.Ct. 1161, 1166, 79 L.Ed.2d 443 The Supreme Court cases ......
  • United States v. Washington
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Washington
    • December 31, 1993
    ...of Review Once a reservation is established, there is a strong presumption that it remains intact. DeCoteau v. District County Court, 420 U.S. 425, 444, 95 S.Ct. 1082, 43 L.Ed.2d 300 (1975). Diminishment is not lightly inferred and will be found only where there is a clearly evinced congres......
  • National Labor Relations Bd. & Local Union No. 1385 v. Pueblo of San Juan, Nos. 99-2011
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • January 11, 2002
    ...that "[a] canon of construction is not a license to disregard clear expressions of . . . congressional intent." DeCoteau v. Dist. County Court, 420 U.S. 425, 447 (1975). Where tribal sovereignty is at stake, the Supreme Court has cautioned that "we tread lightly in the absence of clear indi......
  • Blackfeet Tribe of Indians v. State of Mont.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • April 3, 1984
    ...of construction is not a license to disregard clear expressions of ... congressional intent." DeCoteau v. District County Court, 420 U.S. 425, 447, 95 S.Ct. 1082, 1094, 43 L.Ed.2d 300 (1975); accord, Andrus v. Glover, 446 U.S. 608, 619, 100 S.Ct. 1905, 1911, 64 L.Ed.2d 548 (1980). Nor does ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT