Supreme Court won't hear Oneida Nation's land claim

The Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from the Oneida Indian Nation claiming that it was underpaid for over 250,000 acres in onetime tribal lands in upstate New York that changed hands more than 150 years ago.

The justices on Monday left in place a federal appeals court ruling that threw out the Oneidas' land claims.

It's a cause for celebration, for groups that have been fighting the land claim for 40 years. Judy Bachman, with the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance says the ruling means there's no longer a threat of a tribal entity taking their property, and that property owners --mostly in Oneida and Madison Counties--won't have to buy extra property title protection insurance.

The Oneidas say the state illegally purchased land in upstate New York in a series of transactions in the 18th and 19th centuries. They claim New York underpaid for the land in Madison and Oneida counties by about $500,000, a sum now worth $500 million with interest compounded.

In response to the Supreme Court's decision on the lawsuit, originally filed in 1974, , the Oneida Indian Nation issued the following statement:

This morning TMs determination does not change the Oneida Indian Nation TMs litigation strategy," said Mark Emery, Director of Media Relations for the Oneida Indian Nation. "The federal courts have ruled that the Oneida Nation reservation remains intact and that the Oneida Nation owes no taxes on its reservation. The Department of Interior has determined that more than 13,000 acres of the Nation TMs re-acquired homelands should be transferred into trust. The Oneida Nation will continue the course of transferring its lands into trust while remaining open to discussing a resolution with any party that wishes to participate with respect and in good faith.

But Bachman says that even the plan for the 13-thousand acres is now in question, because the land in question was never Federal land, and the Department of Interior has a different set of regulations for that. She also says that the Turning Stone Casino's status may even be in question---that casinos were 'allowed' in settlement for land claims, but now the land claim has been denied.

Clearly, the disputes, and the court cases are far from over, but Bachmann says today's ruling is significant, not only for the Oneida case, but also as a precedent for the 562 other Native American tribes looking for land settlements, most in the original 13 states.