1705 - First lawsuit brought by an Indian tribe against colonial government

The Mohegan Indians sued the colony of Connecticut in British Court seeking remedy for the illegal invasion of their land by colonial settlers.  click here for more

 The Mohegan tribal council petitioned the British Queen, complaining that it had been deprived of parcels of land reserved by them in a treaty with the colonists.  A Royal Commission was appointed to decide the matter.   They sat in deliberation on three separate occasions; in 1705, 1738, and 1743.  The decision was written by Commissioner Horfmander. 

         "The Indians, though living among the king's subjects in these countries, are a separate and distinct people from them, they are treated with as such, they have a policy of their own, they make peace and war with any nation of Indians, when they think fit, without control from the English.

         "It is apparent the crown looks upon them not as subjects, but as a distinct people, for they are mentioned as such throughout Queen Ann's and his present majesty's commissions by which we now sit.  And it is as plain, in my conception, that the crown looks upon the Indians as having the property and the soil of the countries, and that their lands are not, by his majesty's grant of particular limits of them for a colony, thereby impropriated in his subject till they have made fair and honest purchases of the natives.

         "So that from hence I draw this consequence, that a matter of property in lands in dispute between the Indians as a distinct people (for no act has been shown whereby they became subjects) and the English subjects, cannot be determined by the law of our land, but by a law equal to both parties, which is the law of nature and nations; and upon this foundation, as I take it, these commissions have most properly issued.

         And now to maintain that the tenants in possession of the land in controversy are not bound to answer the complaint before this court, is to endeavor to defeat the very end and the design of our commission' for surely it would be a very lame and defective execution of it, to hear only the matter of complaint between the tribe of Indians and this government." 

         The Royal Commission found for the Mohegan Nation.