Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians v. Whitmer, No. 19-2070 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
For centuries, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians inhabited what is now northern Michigan. The federal government took tribal land for settlers. The Band was determined to stay in their territory. The Treaty of 1836 ceded almost 14 million acres of land to the government in exchange for a temporary reservation in Little Traverse Bay, and thereafter, land west of the Mississippi. The government promised the Band $200,000 “whenever their reservations shall be surrendered.” The Treaty expired in 1841, but the government abandoned its plan to move the Band west.
The Treaty of 1855 described the specific tracts, provided certain tribal members with acreage, required them to make land selections within specific periods, and reserved ownership of land not timely selected for the government. The government delayed the land selections and failed to timely provide land titles. In 1949 and 1951, before the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), the Band alleged “grossly inadequate and unconscionable” consideration. ICC found that the tribes had ceded 12,044,934 acres and retained 401,971 acres, concluded that the Band was owed $10,109,003.55, and rejected a claim that the Band was owed compensation for land that was never allotted under the 1855 Treaty.
In 2015, the Band sought a declaration that the 1855 Treaty created a reservation for the Band. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Treaty provided for allotments of land, which would not fall under federal superintendence, rather than a collective Indian reservation. Under the Treaty’s language, its precedent negotiations, and practical construction, the land cannot be said to be “validly set apart for the use of the Indians . . . under the superintendence of the [federal] [g]overnment.”