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Law School Case Brief

Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States - 348 U.S. 272, 75 S. Ct. 313 (1955)


In all the States of the Union the tribes who inhabited the lands of the States held claim to such lands after the coming of the white man, under what is sometimes termed original Indian title or permission from the whites to occupy. That description means mere possession not specifically recognized as ownership by Congress. After conquest the tribes were permitted to occupy portions of territory over which they had previously exercised "sovereignty." This is not a property right but amounts to a right of occupancy which the sovereign grants and protects against intrusion by third parties, but which right of occupancy may be terminated and such lands fully disposed of by the sovereign itself without any legally enforceable obligation to compensate the Indians.


An American Indian group filed suit, seeking just compensation for the taking of land by the federal government that the group occupied in Alaska and the sale of Alaskan timber from that land, which the group had original Indian title, pursuant to the U.S. Const. amend. V. The group argued that Congress had sufficiently recognized its possessory rights in the land so as to make its interest compensable. The court of claims adopted the findings of a commissioner that determined that the group's interest in the land was that of original Indian title, and that such title was not a sufficient basis to maintain the suit because there had been no recognition by Congress of any legal rights in petitioner to the land in question. The court of claims then dismissed petitioner's suit holding that just compensation was not warranted. 


Was just compensation to the Native American tribe that originally occupied the land required?




The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the court of claims, which held that respondent United States did not owe petitioner American Indian group just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the taking of land in which petitioner had original Indian title because Congress never intended to grant petitioner any permanent rights in the land, and the taking by respondent of petitioner's unrecognized title was not compensable. The court held that the statutes that petitioner cited did not indicate any intention by Congress to grant to petitioner any permanent rights in the lands that they occupied by permission of Congress. 

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