Unjustifiable Expectations: Laying to Rest the Ghosts of Allotment-Era Settlers

60 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2012 Last revised: 6 Oct 2012

See all articles by Ann E. Tweedy

Ann E. Tweedy

University of South Dakota School of Law

Date Written: February 14, 2012


When the Supreme Court decides whether a tribe has jurisdiction over non-members on its reservation or addresses the related issue of reservation diminishment, it often refers implicitly or explicitly to non-Indians’ justifiable expectations. These presumed non-Indian expectations arise from the fact that, when Congress opened up reservations to non-Indians during the allotment era, it assumed that the opened reservations would soon disappear due to the federal government’s assimilationist policies and that the tribes who governed them would similarly dissolve. Thus, the Court imputes justifiable expectations as to the lack of any possibility of tribal jurisdiction to non-Indian allotment-era purchasers and then bases decisions to deny tribes jurisdiction in part on these presumed expectations.

To refute the idea that such non-Indian expectations were justifiable, I examine historical newspaper articles and other historical sources regarding the opening up of reservations to non-Indian purchasers, specifically focusing on cessions by the Sioux Nation and especially the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Such sources suggest that non-Indian purchasers were on notice, in at least some cases, of a potential violation of tribal rights in the allotment and the opening of portions of reservations to non-Indian settlement. Based on my argument that “justifiability” encompasses both reasonableness and justice, this information is used to show that the non-Indian purchasers’ presumed expectations about the disappearance of reservations were not justifiable because the purchasers had notice in many cases that lands were unjustly being taken from the Sioux Nation and other tribes. Because non-Indian expectations of tribal disappearance were, in many cases, not justifiable, such expectations should not be given weight in determinations of tribal jurisdiction or reservation boundaries today.

Keywords: tribal jurisdiction, justifiable expectations, federal Indian law, tribes, legal history, allotment, surplus lands, inquiry notice, state succession, real covenants, equitable servitudes, newspapers, notice, General Allotment Act, Sioux Nation, Habermas, justice, unclean hands, equity

JEL Classification: D30, D39, D63, H40, H82, J70, N31, R00, Z10

Suggested Citation

Tweedy, Ann E., Unjustifiable Expectations: Laying to Rest the Ghosts of Allotment-Era Settlers (February 14, 2012). 36 Seattle U. Law Rev. 129 (2012). , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2005413 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2005413

Ann E. Tweedy (Contact Author)

University of South Dakota School of Law ( email )

414 E. Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069
United States

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