Robinson v. Jewell

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tribal Law
  • Date Filed: 06-22-2015
  • Case #: 12-17151
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Chief Judge Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

For a tribe to obtain title of a piece of land, there must be recognition by Congress of aboriginal title; absent such recognition by Congress, aboriginal title of occupancy may be terminated at any time without legal compensation to Indians.

The Kawaiisu, a non-federally recognized Native American tribe, appealed the dismissal of their claims of title for the Tejon Ranch, a large expanse of private land in California. In 1851, Congress passed the California Land Claims Act, which created a Board of Commissioners (“the Commission”) to evaluate claims. In 1849, the collective Native American leaders of the west (“the Utahs”) signed a treaty with the United States that they accept and submit to jurisdiction of the United States. Later, in 1851, the United States executed Treaty D, in which Californian Indian tribes would cede portions of their land to the federal government in exchange for the government creating reservations for the use and occupancy of Indian tribes. The Kawaiisu argue their ownership over the Tejon Ranch through a treaty with the Utahs and Treaty D. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the Kawaiisu’s various signed treaties, holding that the treaty with the Utahs did not give title to the Tejon Ranch; therefore aboriginal title cannot be recognized. Without the recognition by Congress, the aboriginal title may be terminated at any time, without legal compensation for the Indians. Further, the panel held that Treaty D granted no land rights or any enforceable rights. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court’s decision that the Kawaiisu did not hold title to the Tejon Ranch. AFFIRMED.

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