Conundrums along the Mohawk: Preconstitutional Land Claims of the Oneida Indian Nation


Indian land claims litigation demands careful historical analysis for fair judicial decision making. Preconstitutional land claims create a special problem of analysis because of the existence of three separate sovereignties: the federal government, the individual state government, and the Indian tribe or nation.

The Six Nations of the Iroquois once controlled most of the lakes and woodlands of the northeastern United States. Following the Revolutionary War, because they were not included in the Treaty of Paris, the Iroquois were forced to negotiate treaties for their lands with both the federal government operating under the Articles of Confederation and with the State of New York. In Oneida Indian Nation v. New York,0 the Oneida Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy challenged New York’s acquisition of approximately five and one-half million acres of tribal land. The challenge was based on the statutory provisions of the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1784, and the Articles of Confederation. The Oneidas asserted that these documents gave the federal government the sole authority to make treaties with Indians.

This Note proposes a means of analysis for use in preconstitutional Indian land claims which takes into account the effect of tribal and state sovereignty. The Oneida Indian Nation land claims indicate the need for such analysis and demonstrate its usefulness.

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