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Court Nixes Samish Tribe’s Suit Against U.S.

(CN) - The Samish Indian Nation lost a lawsuit seeking compensation for the programs, services and benefits it claims it would have received had the tribe been recognized by the government from 1969 to 1996.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims said it lacked jurisdiction over most of the Washington tribe's claims and dismissed the remaining claims as moot.

"It is readily apparent that the federal government's failure to treat plaintiff as a recognized Indian tribe between 1969 and 1996 deprived plaintiff of many of the federal benefits enjoyed by other federally recognized Indian tribes during that time period," Judge Margaret Sweeney wrote.

"However, the relief plaintiff seeks is not available in the Court of Federal Claims. Indeed, if plaintiff is lagging behind some of its sister tribes as a result of the deprivation of federal benefits, its avenue for relief is with Congress."

The Samish descend from a signatory tribe to the 1855 Treat of Point Elliott. In 1958, the U.S. government recognized the tribe's right to sue for damages for land lost under the treaty, but in 1969 the Department of the Interior omitted the Samish Nation from its list of Indian tribes.

After nearly 30 years of legal finagling, the tribe was federally recognized on Oct. 15, 1996.

It sued the United States in 2002, claiming the government owed it for the federal benefits it would have received from 1969 to 1996. A federal judge dismissed the complaint as untimely, and the Federal Circuit ruled that it lacked jurisdiction. However, it said the past benefits did not accrue until Nov. 1, 1996 and remanded the case to the claims court.

The tribe argued that the "underlying legal framework" of each federal program, service and benefit provides a "money-mandating basis for jurisdiction."

The claims court rejected this argument, saying none of the programs "'can fairly be interpreted as mandating compensation by the Federal Government for the damages sustained,'" the jurisdictional bar set by the Supreme Court.


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