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City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation - 544 U.S. 197

Rule:

When a party belatedly asserts a right to present and future sovereign control over territory, longstanding observances and settled expectations are prime considerations.

Facts:

Respondent Oneida Indian Nation, a sovereign Indian tribe, sued Petitioner City of Sherrill seeking a declaration that former tribal property, which had been illegally sold but had since been reacquired by the Oneida Indian Nation, was subject to tribal sovereignty and exempt from municipal taxation by the city. The circuit court upheld respondent’s claim. Petitioner city sought review.

Issue:

Does the purchase of the Indian tribe of the subject property from non-Indian owners revive its sovereignty over the historic reservation of the land?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The judgment upholding the tribe's claim to sovereignty over the property was reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court held, however, that the tribe long ago relinquished its governmental interest in the property and could not regain sovereignty through the open-market purchase of the property. Granting tribal sovereignty would not be equitable since the longstanding character of the area and its inhabitants was distinctly non-Indian, there was a long history of state sovereign control over the property, and the tribe unduly delayed seeking to reassert its ancient sovereignty. Further, the nature of the property drastically changed from wilderness at the time it was part of the tribe's reservation to extensively developed at the present time, and the city had a justifiable expectation that its sovereignty would not be disrupted by tribal claims.

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