(CN) – The Oneida Nation lost its bid to repossess about 250,000 acres of ancestral lands transferred to New York and two counties in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The 2nd Circuit in Manhattan upheld a federal judge’s 2007 dismissal of all but one of the claims asserted by the Oneida Nations of New York, Wisconsin and the Thames, and reversed the judge’s decision to let the remaining claim proceed.
The Oneida tribes took legal action in 1974, but allowed their claims to “lay dormant” for decades while they pursued a separate “test case” that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court ruled that the tribes could sue over these aboriginal lands, but suggested that relief might be limited for “present day Oneida Indians.”
The tribes sought to repossess their ancestral lands and claimed they were entitled to compensation for the more than two hundred years that the lands belonged to the state and Oneida and Madison counties. The lands had been conveyed in multiple transactions between 1795 and 1846.
The appellate panel ruled that time and caselaw barred the tribes’ claims.
“A tremendous expanse of time separates the events forming the predicate of the ejectment and trespass-based claims and their eventual assertion,” Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote for the 2-1 majority.
“In that time, most of the Oneidas have moved elsewhere, the subject lands have passed into the hands of a multitude of entities and individuals, most of whom have no connection to the historical injustice the Oneidas assert, and these parties have themselves both bought and sold the lands, and also developed them to an enormous extent.
“These developments have given rise to justified societal expectations … under a scheme of ‘settled land ownership’ that would be disrupted by an award pursuant to the Oneidas’ possessory claims,” she wrote.
In other words, the panel held that the Oneidas’ land possession claims were too “disruptive,” because they called into question settled land titles.
The court said the remaining claim, over the allegedly “unconscionable” transfer agreements, should also be dismissed. Not only does the state’s sovereign immunity bar the contract-based claim, the panel found, it is also prohibited by the same fairness defenses that doomed the tribes’ centuries-old land claims.