BLACKFEATHER v. UNITED STATES

No. 276.

190 U.S. 368 (1903)

BLACKFEATHER v. UNITED STATES.

Supreme Court of United States.

Decided June 1, 1903.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. John C. Chaney and Mr. Alphonso Hart for appellant.

Mr. Assistant Attorney General Pradt and Mr. Special Attorney Button for appellee.


MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The duty of this court is simply to construe the acts of Congress of 1890 and 1892. The Court of Claims has no jurisdiction of the subject matter of this petition, unless it is conferred by one or the other of the above acts. The moral obligations of the Government toward the Indians, whatever they may be, are for Congress alone to recognize, and the courts can exercise only such jurisdiction over the subject as Congress may confer upon them.

Upon examination of the act of 1890, it appears that jurisdiction is conferred upon the Court of Claims to hear and determine what are the just rights in law or in equity of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians, who are settled and incorporated into the Cherokee Nation, under the provisions of article 15 of the treaty of 1866, between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, and also under articles of agreement between the Cherokee Nation and the Shawnee Indians, made June 7, 1869, and articles of agreement made with the Delaware Indians, April 8, 1867, and also of the Cherokee freedmen settled, etc., under provisions of article 9 of the treaty of 1866.

The language of the first section, in our opinion, confers jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims to hear and determine the rights in law or equity of the tribes of the Shawnee or Delaware Indians, arising out of the subject matter provided for in the subsequent parts of the act, and there is no grant of jurisdiction to hear or determine the rights of individual members of those tribes. It is true the statute speaks of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians, but the words Shawnee and Delaware Indians mean the tribes and not individual members of those tribes of Indians. The rights must be those which arise out of the subject matter which is referred to in sections 2, 3 and 4 of the act. This is stated in terms in the first section. The subsequent sections of the act show, as we think, that Indian tribes and not individual members thereof are intended. And no jurisdiction is granted to hear claims such as are included in this case, whether they are made by tribes or by individual members of a tribe.

The second section permits a suit against the Cherokee Nation and the United States Government to recover from the Cherokee Nation moneys due and unpaid to the Shawnees, etc., which the Cherokee Nation have before paid out, or may hereafter pay per capita in the Cherokee Nation and which the Cherokee Nation had refused or neglected to pay to the other Indians. The suits are in reality against the Cherokee Nation, and the recovery is from that nation. The separate or joint suit mentioned in this section is a separate or joint suit of the tribes and of the freedmen, and not of the individual members thereof. In either event it does not include such a case as this.

Section 3 permits the bringing of "the said suit or suits" in the name of the principal chief or chiefs of the said Shawnee and Delaware Indians, and for the freedmen in their behalf and for their use, in the name of some person as their trustee, to be selected by them with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. The exercise of this jurisdiction is not to be barred by any lapse of time heretofore, nor are the rights of the Indians to be impaired by any acts passed and approved by the Cherokee National Council. The right given by the third section is to commence a suit or suits which had already been spoken of in the second section of the act. The second section gave no right to commence this suit, as we have seen. Neither section includes the rights of individual Indians.

A perusal of section 4 shows that the right to bring a suit against the United States, therein provided for, was limited to the purpose of collecting from the United States Government any amount of money that in law or equity may be due from the United States "to said tribes in reimbursement for their tribal fund for money wrongfully diverted therefrom." We think that individual Indians had no right to commence such an action as this under the act of 1890, even though it be assumed that the tribe had such right under that act for the recovery of the value of property taken from the tribe. Such a suit, as the one before us, is plainly not included in the grant of jurisdiction in this section.

By the act of 1892, it is provided that "the Shawnee tribe or band of Indians, whose claims and demands against the Cherokee Nation and the United States were referred to the United States Court of Claims for adjudication," (under the act of 1890,) "shall present to the said court all their claims against the United States and the Cherokee Nation," etc.

The result is that this act does not grant jurisdiction to the Court of Claims to hear and decide the questions arising under this petition. The grant of jurisdiction is to hear and determine all the claims of the Shawnee tribe or band of Indians.

The claims are those of a tribe or band, and not those of the individual members of Shawnee tribe or band. The reference in the act of 1892 shows that Congress assumed that whatever their nature, it was the claims of the Shawnee tribe or band that had been referred to the Court of Claims for adjudication by the act of 1890, and not claims of the individual members thereof. The act of 1892 enlarges the scope of the act of 1890 so as to include all claims of the tribe or band, instead of claims of the nature provided for in sections 2, 3 and 4 of the act of 1890, but the claims must be claims of a band and not of an individual.

These acts have been before this court on a previous occasion.

In United States v. Blackfeather, 155 U.S. 180, 194, Mr. Justice Brown, speaking for the court, said:

"While there may be a moral obligation on the part of the Government to reimburse the money embezzled by the Indian superintendent, and in fact an appropriation appears to have been made for that purpose, act of July 7, 1884, c. 334, 23 Stat. 236, 247, it is by no means clear that, under the acts of 1890 and 1892, the Shawnees were authorized to recover and collect from the Government any other moneys than those which they claimed in their tribal relation or capacity. The money in question is not due the tribe as such, but to certain individual orphans, who claim to have been defrauded. But whether this be so or not, there is nothing in the record to indicate how much of this money was embezzled by the guardians created by the Indian council, and how much by the Indian superintendent, so that there is in reality no basis for a decree in their favor."

While the question in issue here was, as is seen, not decided in the above case, yet the expression contained in the opinion shows the court was not prepared to hold that the acts embraced claims of individual Indians.

As these statutes extend the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims and permit the Government to be sued for causes of action therein referred to, the grant of jurisdiction must be shown clearly to cover the case before us, and if it do not, it will not be implied. Statutes of this nature extending the right to sue the Government will generally be strictly construed. We concur with the following remarks of Judge Weldon, contained in the opinion delivered by him in this case in the Court of Claims:

"The act of 1892, seems to have been enacted for the purpose of enlarging the scope of the right given under the act of 1890. But is it sufficiently broad to embrace the individual right of each Indian who may have suffered a depredation at the hands of the persons alleged?

"The statute (1890) is entitled `An act to refer to the Court of Claims certain claims of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians and the freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, and for other purposes,' and provides, in substance, that they shall present to the said court all their claims against the United States and the Cherokee Nation, or against either or both of them, of any description whatsoever arising out of treaty relations with the United States, rights growing out of such treaties, and from contracts, express or implied, under such treaties made and entered into by and between the said Shawnees and Cherokees, and between them, or either of them, and the United States.

"The right to sue, by the phraseology of this statute, is in the assertion of rights growing out of treaties, and for contracts, express or implied, under treaties made and entered into by and between the said Shawnees, Cherokees, and the United States. Can it be said that there has been a treaty, a contract, express or implied, between the United States and the individual Indians, who, though the medium of the principal chief, are now prosecuting these claims?

"The attention of the court is called to the fourteenth article, (of the treaty of 1854,) which provides that `The Shawnees acknowledge their dependence on the Government of the United States, and invoke its protection and care. They will abstain from the commission of depredations, and comply, as far as they are able, with the laws in such cases made and provided, as they will expect to be protected and to have their rights vindicated.' Does this phraseology establish contractual or treaty relations, having the effect of contracts, with each individual Indian composing the Shawnee tribe? Or, rather, is it not a general clause, United in its effect to the parties to the treaty, to wit, the United States on one side and the Shawnee tribe upon the other?

"The plaintiff, by the allegations of the petition, has asserted an individual obligation existing between the United States and each of the claimants, and in order to recover it must appear that such a relation exists.

"The United States, as the guardian of the Indians, deal with the nation, tribe, or band, and have never, so far as is known to the court, entered into contracts, either express or implied, compacts, or treaties with individual Indians so as to embrace within the purview of such contract or undertaking the personal rights of individual Indians.

"The acts of Congress referred to by the allegations of the petition and the argument of counsel for the claimant, are not applicable to the claim made by this petition. The condition upon which remuneration to the Indian is to be made under section 2154, Revised Statutes, is not shown to exist in this case. And so it may be said of section 2155 of Revised Statutes, that the condition upon which the Indian is entitled to remuneration out of the Treasury is not shown to exist in the claims made in this proceeding.

"The act of 1892 specifies that the Shawnee tribe or band of Indians, whose claims and demands against the Cherokee Nation and the United States were referred to the United States Court of Claims for adjudication under the act of Congress passed and approved October 1, 1890, shall present to said court all their claims against the United States. The claims referred to this court under the act of 1890 were the claims of the Shawnee tribe or band of Indians, and not the personal claims of the individual Indians belonging to said tribe or band of Shawnees.

"The evident object of the act of 1892 was to enlarge the jurisdiction of this court with reference to the same class of claims as were cognizable under the act of 1890, to wit, the claims of the Shawnee tribe or band of Indians."

We think it clear that no jurisdiction over this case is granted by the language of the sections of the Revised Statutes above referred to.

We see nothing in the act, approved May 9, 1860, 12 Stat. 15, appropriating moneys "for the payment of claims of certain members of the Shawnee tribe of Indians," which affects the conclusion we have reached that the acts of 1890 and 1892 refer to tribes and not individuals. The act of 1860 appropriates, in terms, money to pay claims of certain members of the tribe. It is apparent that when Congress intends to include individuals as distinct from tribes, it does not speak of them as Shawnee Indians, but as "certain members" of the Shawnee tribe.

Congress may, of course, at its pleasure, still confer jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims in such terms as shall, without doubt, cover claims of the nature set forth in this record. In our judgment it has not done so as yet. The judgment of the Court of Claims must be

Affirmed.


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