Veto of Indian Claims Legislation.
To the Senate:
I return herewith without my approval the bill S. 3165, entitled "An act conferring jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims to hear, consider, and report upon a claim of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian Nations or Tribes for fair and just compensation for the remainder of the Leased District lands."
This act undertakes, by indirection, to revive the claims of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations for compensation for parts of the so-called "Leased District."
The "Leased Districts" lands of these Indians comprised approximately 7,000,000 acres, lying between the ninety-eighth and one-hundredth degrees of west longitude in the State of Oklahoma. By treaty of June 22, 1855, the United States paid the Choctaws $600,000 and the Chickasaws $200,000 for the lease of this land to the United States in perpetuity, as well as for the cession to the United States of their land west of the one-hundredth degree of west longitude. By treaty of April 28, 1866, involving an additional payment of $300,000 the Choctaws and Chickasaws ceded the Leased District land to the United States, thereby parting with all rights of any kind in that land.
In 1891 Congress appropriated $2,991,450 to pay the Choctaws and Chickasaws for approximately 2,293,000 acres of the Leased District land granted by Congress to the Cheyennes and the Arapahoes. In signing the general appropriation bill containing this item President Harrison protested at paying for land that already belonged to the Federal Government, saying in a message to Congress that he would have disapproved the bill because of this item were it not for the disastrous consequences that would result from the defeat of the entire appropriation bill. In December, 1892, Congress passed a resolution containing the following provisions:
Provided, however, That neither the passage of the original act of appropriation to pay the Choctaw tribes of Indians for their interest in the lands of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Reservation, dated March 3, 1891, nor of this resolution shall be held in any way to commit the Government to the payment of any further sum to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians for any alleged interest in the remainder of the lands situated in what is commonly known and called the "Leased District."
In 1899 the Court of Claims decided that the title to the remaining acreage of Leased District land was in the United States in trust for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. However, the United States Supreme Court, in its decision of December 10, 1890, reversed the Court of Claims, and held that the treaty of 1866 vested in the United States complete title to the Leased District land.
The present claim of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians is for 5,224,346 acres at $1.25 per acre.
The bill does not send this claim to the Court of Claims for adjudication and settlement, as is normally the case with respect to Indian claims. That would, indeed, be futile, since the Supreme Court has ruled that neither it nor the Court of Claims has jurisdiction to decide that the United States shall pay for lands that it already owns. The result of the bill would seem to be, through a report to Congress from the Court of Claims, to create a lawful aspect to a claim which has no present legal standing.
This case raises a very wide issue of whether we are to undertake revision of treaties entered into in the acquiring of Indian lands during the past 150 years. The values of such lands have obviously increased, and the undertakings entered into at the time the agreements were made may naturally look small in after years. But the increased values have been the result of the efforts of our citizens in building this Nation.
This case would I feel, create a dangerous precedent which could conceivably involve the Government in very large liabilities.
If it is the thought of Congress that justice requires the revision of Indian treaties in the light of subsequent events, then the whole of these treaties should be considered together not by incidental creation of precedents.
It is the purpose of the United States Government to do justice by the Indians and assist them to citizenship and participation in the benefits of our civilization. And in the case of these tribes the Government has during the past 18 years expended a total of approximately $3,500,000 out of the taxpayers' money and they will in a few years exceed the totals of these claims.
The White House,
February 18, 1931.
Note: The Senate referred the veto message to the Committee on Indian Affairs, on February 20, 1931, and no further action was taken.
Herbert Hoover, Veto of Indian Claims Legislation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207300