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Minnesota v. Mille Lac Band of Chippewa Indians

United States Supreme Court
536 U.S. 172 (1999)


Through a series of treaties entered in the mid-1800s, several bands of Chippewa Indians (Chippewa) agreed to sell their land to the United States. In exchange, the Chippewa received cash payments and a guarantee that they could continue to hunt, fish, and gather on their land (usufructory rights). The preservation of these rights was memorialized in the language of an 1837 treaty. In a later treaty, the Chippewa sold more land, again reserving their usufructory rights on the sold land. However, this treaty stated that those rights were subject to the Chippewa’s removal from the land at the direction of the president. In 1850, President Zachary Taylor issued an executive order removing the Chippewa from the land and revoking their usufructory rights. However, the government was unsuccessful in removing the Chippewa and, instead, signed a new treaty in 1855 under which the Chippewa agreed to sell all their remaining land and live on reservations. The 1855 treaty made no mention of usufructory rights. Minnesota became a state in 1858. In 1990, the Mille Lac Band of Chippewa Indians (plaintiffs) sued Minnesota (defendant) for a declaratory judgment that they still owned their usufructory rights under the 1837 treaty. Minnesota argued in response that the termination of usufructory rights was justified by (1) the 1850 executive order, (2) the 1855 treaty, and (3) Minnesota being admitted as a state.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (O’Connor, J.)

Dissent (Thomas, J.)

Dissent (Rehnquist, C.J.)

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