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Indian Claims Commission Decisions

About the Collection

The Indian Claims Commission Decisions is a 43 volume set documenting the claims of American Indian groups against the United States from 1946 to 1978. All 43 volumes of this collection were digitized by the OSU Library in cooperation with the University of Tulsa Law Library and the National Indian Law Library.The set is at the University of Tulsa College of Law and was published by the Native American Rights Fund in 1973.

The Indian Claims Commission was created by the Indian Claims Commission Act in 1946 to hear cases “against the United States on behalf of any Indian tribe, band, or other identifiable group of American Indians residing within the territorial limits of the United States or Alaska.” The passage of this act was instrumental in providing reimbursements for the 370 tribal treaties that ceded American Indian land to the United States.

In 1855, the Federal Court of Claims was established to hear all cases regarding monetary claims based on congressional statutes, executive branch regulations and contracts with the United States government. This brought hope to the American Indians who had been ignored for decades, with some treaties dating back to 1795. However, tribes were banned from the Court of Claims in 1863. In 1881, legislation was passed allowing tribes to bring cases to the Court, but the process was intentionally made difficult to discourage them from attempting to make their claims. The American Indian tribes persevered and brought 200 cases to the Court over the next 65 years. Congress, buckling under the strenuous process of hearing these claims, passed an act on Aug. 13, 1946, to allow the American Indians’ claims to be heard by a special tribunal – the Indian Claims Commission.

In the years leading up to the 1946 act, many bills were introduced in Congress with the hopes of creating a better way for American Indian claims to be heard. Some of these bills were spearheaded by Oklahoma legislators. In March 1935, Oklahoma representative William Rogers (not to be confused with Will Rogers, the famed Oklahoma humorist) introduced the first bill calling for the formation of a special commission for hearing these cases, rather than instituting a judicial process in the existing Court. By this point, both the Secretary of the Interior and Congress believed a commission would help cut through the red tape of the complicated process previously in place. In the same year, Senator Elmer Thomas from Oklahoma introduced a similar bill in the Senate, with the purpose of creating a fact-finding body to investigate all American Indian claims and make recommendations to Congress. While these bills were not passed, they were very similar to the final bill that passed 11 years later.

Three bills were introduced in the House of Representatives in 1945; one of which was introduced on Jan. 8 by William Stigler of Oklahoma. This bill added a provision that at least one commissioner be an American Indian. While his bill was not passed, Stigler later testified before the Senate in support of the third 1945 bill, which was passed unanimously by the House and would pass into law a few months later. The main difference between the 1935 bills and the 1945 bill that became law was that the final law allowed the Court of Claims to review findings of the Indian Claims Commission and appeal to the Supreme Court.

About the Digitization Process

This material was added to the Library's digital collections by the Electronic Publishing Center. The EPC, which was in operation from 2000 to 2008, was an early digitization program at the OSU Library.