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Nebraska v. Parker

Supreme Court of the United States

January 20, 2016, Argued; March 22, 2016, Decided

No. 14-1406


Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

The village of Pender, Nebraska sits a few miles west of an abandoned right-of-way [***5]  once used by the Sioux City and Nebraska Railroad Company. We must decide whether Pender and surrounding Thurston County, Nebraska, are within the boundaries of the Omaha Indian Reservation or whether the passage of an 1882 Act empowering the United States Secretary of the Interior to sell the Tribe’s land west of the right-of-way “diminished” the reservation’s boundaries, thereby “free[ing]” the disputed land of “its reservation status.” Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U. S. 463, 467, 104 S. Ct. 1161, 79 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1984). We hold that Congress did not diminish the reservation in 1882 and that the disputed land is within the reservation’s boundaries.

Centuries ago, the Omaha Tribe settled in present-day eastern Nebraska. By the mid-19th century, the Tribe was destitute and, in exchange for much-needed revenue, agreed to sell a large swath of its land to the United States. In 1854, the Tribe entered into a treaty with the United States to create a 300,000-acre reservation. Treaty with the Omahas (1854 Treaty), Mar. 16, 1854, 10 Stat. 1043. The Tribe agreed to “cede” and “forever relinquish all right and title to” its land west of the Mississippi River,  [**156]  excepting the reservation, in exchange for $840,000, to be paid over 40 years. Id., at 1043-1044.

 [*1077]  In 1865, after the displaced Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe [***6]  moved west, the Omaha Tribe agreed to “cede, sell, and convey” an additional 98,000 acres on the north side of the reservation to the United States for the purpose of creating a reservation for the Winnebagoes. Treaty with the Omaha Indians (1865 Treaty), Mar. 6, 1865, 14 Stat. 667-668. The Tribe sold the land for a fixed sum of $50,000. Id., at 667.

In 1872, the Tribe again expressed its wish to sell portions of the reservation, but Congress took a different tack than it had in the 1854 and 1865 Treaties. Instead of purchasing a portion of the reservation for a fixed sum, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to survey, appraise, and sell up to 50,000 acres on the western side of the reservation “to be separated from the remaining portion of said reservation” by a north-south line agreed to by the Tribe and Congress. Act of June 10, 1872 (1872 Act), ch. 436, §1, 17 Stat. 391. Under the 1872 Act, a nonmember could purchase “tracts not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres each” or “the entire body offered.” Ibid. Proceeds from any sales would be “placed to the credit of said Indians on the books of the treasury of the United States.” Ibid. But the proceeds were meager. The 1872 Act resulted in only two sales totaling 300.72 [***7]  acres.

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136 S. Ct. 1072 *; 194 L. Ed. 2d 152 **; 2016 U.S. LEXIS 2132 ***; 84 U.S.L.W. 4154; 26 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 34

NEBRASKA, et al., Petitioners v. MITCH PARKER, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Smith v. Parker, 774 F.3d 1166, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 23963 (8th Cir. Neb., 2014)

Disposition: 774 F. 3d 1166, affirmed.


reservation, Tribe, diminish, disputed land, right-of-way, tribal, acres, nonmembers, opened, Treaty, settlers, tracts, Ordinance, sales, statutory text, settlement, retailers, proceeds, surplus

Governments, Native Americans, Property Rights