Minnesota v Chippewa Indians, 032499 USSC971337

Party Name:Minnesota v Chippewa Indians
Case Date:March 24, 1999
Court:United States Supreme Court

124 F.3d 904, affirmed.


119 S.Ct. 1187

143 L.Ed.2d 270

No. 97 1337



[March 24, 1999]

Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1837, the United States entered into a Treaty with several Bands of Chippewa Indians. Under the terms of this Treaty, the Indians ceded land in present-day Wisconsin and Minnesota to the United States, and the United States guaranteed to the Indians certain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on the ceded land. We must decide whether the Chippewa Indians retain these usufructuary rights today. The State of Minnesota argues that the Indians lost these rights through an Executive Order in 1850, an 1855 Treaty, and the admission of Minnesota into the Union in 1858. After an examination of the historical record, we conclude that the Chippewa retain the usufructuary rights guaranteed to them under the 1837 Treaty.



In 1837, several Chippewa Bands, including the respondent Bands here, were summoned to Fort Snelling (near present-day St. Paul, Minnesota) for the negotiation of a treaty with the United States. The United States representative at the negotiations, Wisconsin Territorial Governor Henry Dodge, told the assembled Indians that the United States wanted to purchase certain Chippewa lands east of the Mississippi River, lands located in present-day Wisconsin and Minnesota. App. 46 (1837 Journal of Treaty Negotiations). The Chippewa agreed to sell the land to the United States, but they insisted on preserving their right to hunt, fish, and gather in the ceded territory. See, e.g., id., at 70, 75 76. In response to this request, Governor Dodge stated that he would "make known to your Great Father, your request to be permitted to make sugar, on the lands; and you will be allowed, during his pleasure, to hunt and fish on them." Id., at 78. To these ends, the parties signed a treaty on July 29, 1837. In the first two articles of the 1837 Treaty, the Chippewa ceded land to the United States in return for 20 annual payments of money and goods. The United States also, in the fifth article of the Treaty, guaranteed to the Chippewa the right to hunt, fish, and gather on the ceded lands:

"The privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guarantied [sic] to the Indians, during the pleasure of the President of the United States." 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa, 7 Stat. 537.

In 1842, many of the same Chippewa Bands entered into another Treaty with the United States, again ceding additional lands to the Federal Government in return for annuity payments of goods and money, while reserving usufructuary rights on the ceded lands. 1842 Treaty with the Chippewa, 7 Stat. 591. This Treaty, however, also contained a provision providing that the Indians would be "subject to removal therefrom at the pleasure of the President of the United States." Art. 6, id., at 592.

In the late 1840's, pressure mounted to remove the Chippewa to their unceded lands in the Minnesota Territory. On September 4, 1849, Minnesota Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey urged the Territorial Legislature to ask the President to remove the Chippewa from the ceded land. App. 878 (Report and Direct Testimony of Dr. Bruce M. White) (hereinafter White Report). The Territorial Legislature complied by passing, in October 1849, "Joint Resolutions relative to the removal of the Chippewa Indians from the ceded lands within the Territory of Minnesota." App. to Pet. for Cert. 567 (hereinafter Joint Resolution). The Joint Resolution urged:

"[T]o ensure the security and tranquility of the white settlements in an extensive and valuable district of this Territory, the Chippewa Indians should be removed from all lands within the Territory to which the Indian Title has been extinguished, and that the privileges given to them by Article Fifth [of the 1837 Treaty] and Article Second [of the 1842 Treaty] be revoked." Ibid.

The Territorial Legislature directed its resolution to Congress, but it eventually made its way to President Zachary Taylor. App. 674 (Report and Direct Testimony of Professor Charles E. Cleland) (hereinafter Cleland Report). It is unclear why the Territorial Legislature directed this resolution to Congress and not to the President. One possible explanation is that, although the 1842 Treaty gave the President authority to remove the Chippewa from that land area, see 1842 Treaty with the Chippewa, Art. 6, 7 Stat. 592, the 1837 Treaty did not confer such authority on the President. Therefore, any action to remove the Chippewa from the 1837 ceded lands would require congressional approval. See App. 674 (Cleland Report).

The historical record provides some clues into the impetus behind this push to remove the Chippewa. In his statement to the Territorial Legislature, Governor Ramsey asserted that the Chippewa needed to be removed because the white settlers in the Sauk Rapids and Swan River area were complaining about the privileges given to the Chippewa Indians. Id., at 878 (White Report). Similarly, the Territorial Legislature urged removal of the Chippewa "to ensure the security and tranquility of the white settlements" in the area. App. to Pet. for Cert. 567 (Joint Resolution). The historical evidence suggests, however, that the white settlers were complaining about the Winnebago Indians, not the Chippewa, in the Sauk Rapids area. See App. 671 672 (Cleland Report). There is also evidence that Minnesotans wanted Indians moved from Wisconsin and Michigan to Minnesota because a large Indian presence brought economic benefits with it. Specifically, an Indian presence provided opportunities to trade with Indians in exchange for their annuity payments, and to build and operate Indian agencies, schools, and farms in exchange for money. The presence of these facilities in an area also opened opportunities for patronage jobs to staff these facilities. See id., at 668 671; id., at 1095 (White Report). See also id., at 149 150 (letter from Rice to Ramsey, Dec. 1, 1849) ("Minnesota would reap the benefit [from the Chippewa's removal] whereas now their annuities pass via Detroit and not one dollar do our inhabitants get"). The District Court concluded in this case that "Minnesota politicians, including Ramsey, advocated removal of the Wisconsin Chippewa to Minnesota because they wanted to obtain more of the economic benefits generated by having a large number of Indians residing in their territory." 861 F.Supp. 784, 803 (Minn. 1994).

Whatever the impetus behind the removal effort, President Taylor responded to this pressure by issuing an Executive Order on February 6, 1850. The order provided:

"The privileges granted temporarily to the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi, by the Fifth Article of the Treaty made with them on the 29th of July 1837, 'of hunting, fishing and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded' by that treaty to the United States; and the right granted to the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, by the Second Article of the treaty with them of October 4th 1842, of hunting on the territory which they ceded by that treaty, 'with the other usual privileges of occupancy until required to remove by the President of the United States,' are hereby revoked; and all of the said Indians remaining on the lands ceded as aforesaid, are required to remove to their unceded lands." App. to Pet. for Cert. 565.

The officials charged with implementing this order understood it primarily as a removal order, and they proceeded to implement it accordingly. See Record, Doc. No. 311, Plaintiffs' Exh. 88 (letter from Brown to Ramsey, Feb. 6, 1850); App. 161 (letter from Ramsey to Livermore, Mar. 4, 1850). See also 861 F. Supp., at 805 (citing Plaintiffs' Exh. 201 (letter from Livermore to Ramsey, April 2, 1850)) (describing circular prepared to notify Indians of Executive Order); App. 1101 1102 (White Report) (describing circular and stating that "the entire thrust" of the circular had to do with removal).

The Government hoped to entice the Chippewa to remove to Minnesota by changing the location where the annuity payments the payments for the land cessions would be made. The Chippewa were to be told that their annuity payments would no longer be made at La Pointe, Wisconsin (within the Chippewa's ceded lands), but, rather, would be made at Sandy Lake, on unceded lands, in the Minnesota Territory. The Government's first annuity payment under this plan, however, ended in disaster. The Chippewa were told they had to be at Sandy Lake by October 25 to receive their 1850 annuity payment. See B. White, The Regional Context of the Removal Order of 1850, §6, pp. 6 9 6 10 (Mar. 1994). By November 10, almost 4,000 Chippewa had assembled at Sandy Lake to receive the payment, but the annuity goods were not completely distributed until December 2. Id., at 6 10. In the meantime, around 150 Chippewa died in an outbreak of measles and dysentery; another 230 Chippewas died on the winter trip home to Wisconsin. App. 228 229 (letter from Buffalo to Lea, Nov. 6, 1851).

The Sandy Lake annuity experience intensified opposition to the removal order among the Chippewa as well as among non-Indian residents of the area. See id., at 206 207 (letter from Warren to Ramsey, Jan. 21, 1851); id., at 214 (letter from Lea to Stuart, June 3, 1851) (describing opposition to the order). See also Record, Doc. No. 311, Plaintiffs' Exh. 93 (Michigan and Wisconsin citizens voice their objections to the order to the President). In the face of this opposition, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Luke Lea wrote to the Secretary of the Interior recommending that the President's 1850 order be modified to allow the...

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