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CAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK v. CUOMO

March 6, 1991

THE CAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, AND THE SENECA-CAYUGA TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR,
v.
MARIO M. CUOMO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCURN, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

The plaintiffs and the defendants have moved for summary judgment concerning the issue of whether defendants' legal defense of abandonment effectively precludes the plaintiffs from maintaining the instant action. The plaintiffs contend that abandonment is not a viable defense to this lawsuit, and that they can succeed in the present action even though they no longer live on the land at issue in this dispute. The defendants argue that the plaintiffs cannot prevail in this action because they allegedly abandoned the land which is the subject of plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons stated below, this court grants the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and denies the defendants' motion.

Background

This is the fourth memorandum-decision and order issued by this court concerning the present action, and familiarity with the background of this case is presumed. See Cayuga Indian Nation of New York et al. v. Cuomo et al., 565 F. Supp. 1297 (N.D.N.Y. 1983) ("Cayuga I"); Cayuga Indian Nation of New York et al. v. Cuomo et al., 667 F. Supp. 938 (N.D.N.Y. 1987) ("Cayuga II") and Cayuga Indian Nation of New York et al. v. Cuomo et al., 730 F. Supp. 485 (N.D.N.Y. 1990) ("Cayuga III"). However, a brief review of the facts concerning plaintiffs' claims is in order.

Plaintiff Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and plaintiff-intervenor Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma (collectively referred to as "the plaintiffs" or "the Cayugas") both seek a declaration from this court concerning their current ownership of and right to possess a tract of land in central New York State containing approximately 64,000 acres ("the subject land"), an award of fair rental value for the almost two hundred years during which they have been out of possession of the subject land, and other monetary and protective relief.*fn1

This court has previously held that the plaintiffs can present evidence in support of the above claims. Cayuga I, 565 F. Supp. at 1330. In Cayuga II, this court denied both parties' motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims. Id., 667 F. Supp. at 949. In Cayuga III, this court granted the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and held that agreements entered into in the years 1795 and 1807 between the plaintiffs and New York State, wherein the plaintiffs purportedly conveyed to the State of New York the plaintiffs' interest in the subject land, were invalid. Id., 730 F. Supp. at 493.

By the instant motion, the plaintiffs seek an order from this court holding that the defendants' affirmative defense alleging abandonment is insufficient as a matter of law to preclude recovery on plaintiffs' claims. The defendants contend that this defense bars the plaintiffs from succeeding on their claims against defendants, and have therefore moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs' complaint.

Discussion

(1) The Cayugas' title concerning the subject land.

The first aspect of these motions which this court must consider in arriving at its decision relates to the form or type of title held by the plaintiffs regarding the subject land.

There are two distinct types of title to Indian land; "aboriginal" title and "recognized" or "reserved" title. An Indian tribe obtains aboriginal title in land when it continually uses and occupies said property to the exclusion of other Indian tribes or persons. Conversely, where Congress has, by treaty or statute, conferred upon an Indian tribe, or acknowledged to the Indians, the right to permanently occupy and use certain land, an Indian tribe is said to possess recognized or reserved title in such land. Bennett County v. United States, 394 F.2d 8, 11 (8th Cir. 1968); Miami Tribe of Oklahoma v. United States, 175 F. Supp. 926, 936, 146 Ct.Cl. 421 (1959).

Differentiating between these two forms of title is critical in resolving the issues before this court. Since aboriginal title is dependent upon actual, continuous and exclusive possession of the land, proof of a tribe's voluntary abandonment of such property constitutes a defense to a subsequent claim concerning the land. See e.g. F. Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law (1982 ed.) at 492 and cases cited therein.*fn2 However, if an Indian tribe possesses recognized title in certain land, then Congress, and only Congress, may divest the tribe of its title to such land. Cf. Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U.S. 463, 470, 104 S.Ct. 1161, 1166, 79 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984), reh'g denied 466 U.S. 948, 104 S.Ct. 2148, 80 L.Ed.2d 535 (1984) ("only Congress can divest a reservation of its land and diminish its boundaries. Once a block of land is set aside for an Indian reservation and no matter what happens to the title of individual plots within the area, the entire plot retains its reservation status until Congress explicitly indicates otherwise") (citing United States v. Celestine, 215 U.S. 278, 285, 30 S.Ct. 93, 94-95, 54 L.Ed.2d 195 (1909)); Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip, 430 U.S. 584, 587-88, 97 S.Ct. 1361, 1363-64, 51 L.Ed.2d 660 (1977); De Coteau v. District County Ct. for Tenth Jud. Dist., 420 U.S. 425, 444, 95 S.Ct. 1082, 1092-93, 43 L.Ed.2d 300 (1975), reh'g denied 421 U.S. 939, 95 S.Ct. 1667, 44 L.Ed.2d 95 (1975); Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 504-05, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 2257-58, 37 L.Ed.2d 92 (1973); see also F. Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law (1982 ed.) at 493.

Central to the plaintiffs' argument that the defense of abandonment is insufficient as a matter of law with respect to their claims is their contention that the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua ("the Treaty"), entered into between the federal government and the Six Nations, afforded the plaintiffs recognized title to the subject land.

This Treaty contained, inter alia, the following provisions:

Article I

    Peace and friendship are hereby firmly
  established, and shall be perpetual, between the
  United States and the Six Nations.

Article II

    The United States acknowledge the lands reserved
  to the Oneida, Onondaga and Cayuga Nations, in
  their respective treaties with the state of New
  York, and called their reservations, to be their
  property; and the United States will never claim
  the same, nor disturb them or either of the Six
  Nations, nor their Indian friends residing thereon
  and united with them, in the free use and
  enjoyment thereof: but the said reservations shall
  remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same
  to the people of the United States, who have the
  right to purchase.

Article III

    The land of the Seneka nation is bounded as
  follows: [Article III continues by describing in
  detail the boundaries of the Seneka nation's land,
  and concludes by stating:] Now, the United States
  acknowledge all the land within the aforementioned
  boundaries, to be the property of the Seneka
  nation; and the United States will never claim the
  same, nor disturb the Seneka nation, nor any of
  the Six Nations, or of their Indian friends
  residing thereon and united with them, in the free
  use and enjoyment thereof: but it shall remain
  theirs, until they choose to sell the same to the
  people of the United States, who have the right to
  purchase.

Article IV

    The United States having thus described and
  acknowledged what lands belong to the Oneidas,
  Onondagas, Cayugas and Senekas, and engaged never
  to claim the same, nor disturb them, or any of the
  Six Nations, or their Indian friends residing
  thereon and united with them, in the free use and
  enjoyment thereof: Now, the Six Nations, and each
  of them, hereby engage that they will never claim
  any other lands within the boundaries of the
  United States; nor ever disturb the people of the
  United States in the free use and enjoyment
  thereof.

In witness whereof, [Federal Treaty Commissioner] Timothy Pickering, and the sachems and war chiefs of the Six Nations, have ...


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