MANHATTAN (CN) — Rejecting a challenge from Upstate New York towns and an organization coveting Native American land, the Second Circuit on Wednesday upheld the federal government's designation of 17,000 acres as Oneida territory.
One of Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Oneida Nation has long been a federally recognized tribe headquartered in the Empire State, but the formal designation of their land has been a long haul.
Oneida tribes took legal action in 1974, but allowed their claims to lie dormant for decades while they pursued a separate test case that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The tribes sought repossession of their ancestral lands and compensation for the more than 200 years that the lands belonged to the state and Oneida and Madison counties. The lands were conveyed in multiple transactions between 1795 and 1846.
In 2008, their quest turned a corner when the federal government put 13,000 acres in central New York in a trust on their behalf.
Then new battle lines emerged as the New York towns of Vernon and Verona joined forces with six private citizens and a group called Upstate Citizens for Equality, and filed a federal lawsuit against the United States for standing up for the Oneidas.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn found in favor of the government last year.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed the decision.
"We agree with the district court that the entrustment procedure generally, and this entrustment in particular, lie within the federal government's long-recognized 'plenary' power over Indian tribes: Neither principles of state sovereignty nor the Constitution's Enclave Clause — which requires state consent for the broadest federal assertions of jurisdiction over land within a state — prevents the federal government from conferring on the tribe jurisdiction over these trust lands," U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney wrote for the panel.
The Department of Justice said that it was "pleased" by the ruling.
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