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The Indian Claims Commission

Founding the ICC and Initial Goals
The Indian Claims Commission (ICC) was created by Congress in 1946 to hear Indian land claim cases. Prior to the commission, Indian tribes and bands that wanted to file grievances regarding land claims had to request from Congress special authority to seek money damages in the Court of Claims.

Between 1920 and 1946, nearly 200 Indian land claims had been filed with the Court of Claims. Only twenty-nine received awards; most of the rest were dismissed on technicalities. In order to expeditiously handle the volume of Indian land claims, Congress created the commission to hear and decide tribal land claim cases on August 13, 1946.

According to several historians, the ultimate goal of the ICC was two-fold: to relieve Congress from the press of tribal claimants; and to satisfy Indian desires for justice. This dual philosophy is illustrated in the words of President Truman who, upon signing the act that created the ICC, optimistically stated:

I hope that this bill will mark the beginning of a new era for our Indian citizens. They have valiantly served on every battlefront. They have proved by their loyalty the wisdom of a national policy built upon fair dealing. With the final settlement of all outstanding claims which this measure insures, Indians can take their place without special handicaps or special advantages in the economic life of our nation and share fully in its progress. (Truman in Prucha:1984)

Click to enlarge

Neither of these goals was fully realized, and the matter of Indian claims against the United States remains unsettled.

This map was produced in 1978 to accompany the transfer of ICC cases to the Court of Claims. Click on the map for more information.


History of Operation
At the onset of the ICC in 1946, Indian tribes and bands were given a five-year period (1946-1951) to file claims; even ancient land takings could be compensated, and certain claims not previously recognized were allowed. At the end of the five-year period, the commission was overwhelmed with the total number of claims filed, and the adversarial proceedings between tribal lawyers and the Justice Department dramatically slowed the processing of claims.

Therefore, the life of the commission was extended in five-year increments between 1956 and 1976. The commission went out of existence September 30, 1978, and all unfinished land claims cases were transferred back to the Court of Claims.

Expert Witnesses
One aspect of the land claims process that was controversial within Indian communities was the hiring of anthropologists to serve as the experts on land claim issues. Tribes questioned why their own elders weren't given the same or higher status in this regard.

The courts favored the book-learning of academics over the life-experience of people raised in the tribal communities. They would not accept oral history as valid evidence without corroboration from historians, anthropologists and archaeologists. These issues are still debated.

Two Unique Examples, in the Northwest
In the following clips you will hear two different tribal representatives discuss the land claims of their respective tribes before the Indian Claims Commission. Both of these cases are unique in that they involve ancient land claims of tribes who never conducted formal treaties with the government.

In this first video clip, Francis Cullooyah of the Kalispel Tribe, located in present-day northeastern Washington along the Pend d'Oreille River, describes his perspective on the Kalispel land claims and subsequent ICC award.

Perspective on the Kalispel Land Claim Settlement
Francis Cullooyah - Kalispel
Cultural Director, Kalispel Tribe

The Kalispel Tribe and the Indian Claims Commission Experience,
a good historical overview of the Kalispel Tribe's land claim before the ICC.

Click here to read the text of the ICC Decision for the Kalispel Tribe: digital.library.okstate.edu/icc/v06/iccv06p353.pdf

In this clip, Dr. Russell Boham of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa discusses the unique aspects surrounding the Little Shell Chippewa's land claim before the ICC as part of a joint land claims case involving the Red Lake, Pembina, and White Earth Bands of Chippewa, et al., and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Little Shell Land Claim, North Dakota
Russell Boham - Little Shell Chippewa
Tribal Executive Officer, Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa

Visit these links to read the text of the ICC Decision for the Little Shell, et al., claim:

Findings of Fact  http://digital.library.okstate.edu/icc/v06/iccv06p247.pdf

Opinion of Commission  http://digital.library.okstate.edu/icc/v06/iccv06p305.pdf

Francis Paul Prucha, "The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians," vols I & II (University of Nebraska Press, 1984)
Subject Areas: This two-volume work covers US Government policy and Indian tribes from the Colonial Era to Indian Self-Determination. 1302 pages with Bibliography.

________________, "American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly," (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994)
Subject Areas: chronological account of the treaty making process and procedures, and the subsequent history of treaties.

Charles Wilkinson, "Indian Tribes as Sovereign Governments," (American Indian Resources Institute, 2004)
Subject Areas: Federal-Tribal History, Law and Policy; Treaty Negotiations, Federal Statutes, US Supreme Court decisions

Other Resources
Indian Land Areas Judicially Established 1978

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