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Archive for Saturday, July 8, 2000

Court sides with Indian tribe in claim against U.S.

July 8, 2000

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— A federal court has ruled that white settlers wrongfully took a 2.8-million-acre tract of Texas forest from the Alabama and Coushatta Indians, possibly entitling the tribe to millions of dollars in reimbursement.

About 400 members of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, who are closely related to the Creek and Cherokee, want the government to pay for timber, oil, natural gas and land the tribe never got to sell.

On June 19, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Claims Court sided with the tribe and ruled that it has title to land in nine Texas counties, stretching from the Louisiana line to just north of Houston.

Now leaders on the tribe's 4,600-acre reservation 90 miles northeast of Houston hope their long legal battle will be resolved by the Justice Department, which is reviewing the federal court claim. Congress ultimately must approve any settlement.

"We don't see any reason we can't negotiate a settlement in this case," Morris Bullock, chairman of the tribal council, said. "It has gone on too long already. We are just going to try to make sure the other side doesn't do anything to change it."

The Coushatta tribe came to east Texas about 1795 and were joined by the Alabama in 1805. The court of claims found that because the tribes' land rights never were severed by Congress in a treaty or resolution, the federal government had a duty to protect the tribe.

Tribe members say they are owed money for the 109 years between 1845, when Texas became a state, and 1954, when Congress gave trusteeship of the tribe to Texas.

The Alabama and Coushatta began its fight for the land rights in 1967 with the now-defunct Indian Claims Commission. In 1983, Congress passed a special resolution that enabled the tribe to file the lawsuit.

In similar cases, tribes have walked away with large settlements. In 1994, for example, the Catawba Indians received $90 million to end a 150-year land dispute in South Carolina.

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