The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
has essentially barred the Oneida Nation
from pursuing its long-running land claim against two counties in New York.
The 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua set aside a 250,000-acre reservation for the Oneidas. The land was slowly sold, taken and used by the state of New York without federal approval over the next two centuries.
In 1974, the tribe filed a claim to the land, which now forms parts of Oneida County and Madison County. The U.S. Supreme Court
in 1985 ruled that the tribe could pursue remedies against the counties and the state of New York under federal common law.
But in today's ruling, the 2nd Circuit said two recent developments "dramatically altered" the legal landscape. First, it cited the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Sherrill v. Oneida Nation that said the tribe can't assert sovereignty over reacquired properties in the two counties without going through the land-into-trust process.
Second, the court cited the 2nd Circuit's 2005 ruling in the Cayuga Nation land claim. Both decisions addressed the "disruptive nature" of land claims and said tribes that wait too long to assert their rights have essentially lost their rights.
"Indian possessory land claims that seek or sound in ejectment of the current owners are indisputably
disruptive and would, by their very nature, project redress into the present and future; such claims
are subject to the doctrine of laches," the 2nd Circuit said, quoting from the federal judge's decision in the case.
Laches is a legal doctrine that allowed the two counties and the state to defend themselves by arguing the Oneida Nation slept on its rights.
Judge Nina Gershon filed a dissent. She said the majority's decision runs "contrary to the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decisions in this very case."
2nd Circuit Decision:
Oneida Nation v. Oneida County/Madison County
(August 9, 2010)
Sherrill v. Oneida Nation