Native Land Rights and Claims

Native Land Rights and Claims

Course Description

Land is at the heart of most Native peoples’ lives, continued vitality, and cultural survival. For most Native peoples in the United States, land is also the heart of sovereignty -- Native peoples' abilities to govern themselves and their homes -- and spirituality. This course examines the U.S. legal regime that developed around ownership of Indian lands, compensation for forced acquisition of those lands, and recovery of their title and use by their Indian owners. Specifically, the course will cover aboriginal title (both tribal and individual), recognized title (including treaty title), the Indian Claims Commission process, and more recent efforts at land recovery and/or compensation, including the prosecution of human rights claims in international forums.

Instead of the usual broad survey of Indian land claims issues, this experimental course will use a single currently active land claim, that of the Western Shoshone Nation, as a lens through which to study the subject. The Western Shoshones’ claim to most of the state of Nevada has been in litigation and negotiation for more than five decades, continuing to the present time, and has included most of the important Indian land claims issues. Attorney Thomas E. Luebben, who will co-teach the class, has represented Western Shoshone tribes and organizations for the last thirty years, including Mary and Carrie Dann, defendants in the phase of the claim that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The course will meet weekly in a seminar format, with a significant amount of interesting reading required. During the latter part of the class, students (either alone or with a partner) will draft a complaint, a motion for summary judgment, a motion to dismiss, or a similar pleading on a current legal issue or claim in the Western Shoshone dispute. The instructors will choose the specific topics and students will be assigned to represent either a Shoshone or opposing party in the dispute. The class will culminate in students’ oral arguments of the motions.

Grading will be done on the basis of class participation, the written assignment, and the oral argument.