From the Syracuse Post Standard
Judge rejects Oneidas' claim for land
Posted by Glenn Coin May 21, 2007 1:34PM
Categories: Breaking News, Cayuga County, Government, Madison County
A federal judge today rejected the Oneida Indian Nation's claim to land in Central New York, but said the Oneidas may deserve to be paid retroactively for the low prices the state paid more than 100 years ago.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn said it would be too disruptive to give back to the Oneidas the land they say was taken illegally from them in the 18th and 19th centuries. But Kahn did side with the Oneidas in ruling that the state paid the Oneidas just a fraction of what the land was worth on the open market.
The Oneidas say they were underpaid by about $500,000. With inflation, they say, they are owed $500 million today. The decision will almost certainly be appealed. In his ruling, in fact, Kahn gave lawyers the go-ahead to appeal to the 2nd U.S. District Court of Appeals.
The land claim was filed in 1974. Three tribes of Oneidas claim that about 250,000 acres in Madison and Oneida counties was bought from them illegally.
Staff writer Glenn Coin will have a full report in Tuesday's Post-Standard.
JUDGE KAHN'S RULING
Posted: May 21. 2007 3:57PM
Judge: Oneidas can't obtain land through claim
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn today barred the Oneida Indian Nation from regaining property through the Nation's 33-year-old land-claim lawsuit.
"Past injustices suffered by the Oneidas cannot be remedied by creating present and future injustices," Kahn wrote in his ruling.
But Kahn's ruling left open the possibility that the Oneidas could seek redress including monetary compensation approaching $500 million for injustices committed against it when the state bought most of the Oneidas' land more than 150 years ago.
Kahn ruled after New York state and Oneida and Madison counties sought dismissal of the Oneidasí land claim, first filed in federal court in 1974. They cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that said Sherrill could tax Nation property, and also on a federal court ruling limiting the Cayuga Indian Nation's land claim.
Kahn acknowledged these two cases are important precedents now.
"The courts have held themselves open to Plaintiffs' land claims for generations, however, recent legal developments raise the possibility that this Court might be compelled to close its doors now," Kahn wrote. "The Court does not believe that the higher courts intended to or have barred Plaintiffs from receiving any relief; to do so would deny the Oneidas the right to seek redress for long-suffered wrongs."
But he also acknowledged that other federal district courts have ruled differently on land-claim issues, and he gave the parties 10 days to file an immediate appeal of his ruling.
While the Nation lost out on its right to obtain property through its land claim, it issued a statement focusing on other aspects of Kahn's ruling.
"The Oneida people are gratified by the federal court ruling today," the Nation's statement said. "Although one count was dismissed, the land claim is alive and well and has a value exceeding a half a billion dollars. The court has reaffirmed that the transactions that took the Oneida land were illegal."
In his ruling, Kahn notes that the state entered into an agreement with the Oneidas on Sept. 15, 1795, to purchase about 100,000 acres of land. The state paid about 50 cents per acre but obtained seven times that amount when it resold the land to white settlers," Kahn said.
"The Court finds that Plaintiffs have adequately met their burden and have raised material facts as to the inadequacy of the consideration paid to the Oneida Indian Nation and the State's knowledge with respect to those payments," Kahn wrote.
The ruling concluded, "As explained above, the Second Circuit's Cayuga decision holds that equity bars the Oneidas' attempts to vindicate their rights to the lands promised to them by the United States and the State because of the disruption that would be caused to Defendants' expectations and those innocent third parties who now reside related lands. However, the equities also mandate that the Court not pass judgment without noting that the Oneidas and their ancestors have been subjected to historic levels of disruption -- disruption that forms the heart of this action and merits this Court's consideration."
Visit uticaOD.com later for more detail and reaction to this historic ruling.