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November 8, 1915



White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney; McReynolds took no part in the consideration or decision of this case

Author: Van Devanter

[ 239 U.S. Page 63]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a suit to cancel a so-called trust patent for an allotment in the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota on the ground that the allotment was made inadvertently and in contravention of the act of January 14, 1889, c. 24, 25 Stat. 642, known as the Nelson Act. In the Circuit Court there was a decree dismissing the bill

[ 239 U.S. Page 64]

     upon the merits and this was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals with instructions to enter a decree according to the prayer of the bill subject to a qualification not here material. 198 Fed. Rep. 645.

The facts are not in dispute and are these: Vincent La Roque, in whose name the trust patent issued, was a Chippewa Indian born in 1883 of parents residing on the White Earth Reservation and was among those whose names were included in the census of Minnesota Chippewas made under the Nelson Act. Had he lived he would have been entitled to take an allotment under that act. He died shortly after 1889 without an allotment being selected by or for him. Thereafter an application in his name for the allotment in question was presented to the allotting officers, and upon this application the allotment was made and the trust patent was issued, both in his name, as if the selection were made while he was living. Henry La Roque, the defendant, is his father and as sole heir claims the land under the allotment and trust patent.

Whether the Nelson Act contemplated that allotments should be made on behalf of Indians otherwise entitled thereto but who should die without selecting or receiving them is the principal question for decision. The regulations and decisions of the Secretary of the Interior, under whose supervision the act was to be administered, show that it was construed by that officer as confining the right of selection to living Indians and that he so instructed the allotting officers. While not conclusive, this construction given to the act in the course of its actual execution is entitled to great respect and ought not to be overruled without cogent and persuasive reasons. United States v. Moore, 95 U.S. 760, 763; Hastings & Dakota R.R. v. Whitney, 132 U.S. 357, 366; United States v. Hammers, 221 U.S. 220, 225, 228; Logan v. Davis, 233 U.S. 613, 627. Not only so, but it receives additional force from its adoption by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

[ 239 U.S. Page 65]

     in Woodbury v. United States, 170 Fed. Rep. 302, where it was said by District Judge Amidon in speaking for that court: "Until the allotment was made, Woodbury's right was personal -- a mere float -- giving him no right to any specific property. This right, from its nature, would not descend to his heirs. They, as members of the tribe, were severally entitled to their allotments in their own right. To grant them the right of their ancestor, in addition to their personal right, would give them an unfair share of the tribal lands. The motive underlying such statutes forbids such a construction."

The Nelson Act embodied a plan for securing a cession by the several bands of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota of all reservations occupied by them except portions of the White Earth and Red Lake reservations required to make allotments, for removing to the White Earth Reservation all the bands save those on the Red Lake Reservation, for making allotments in severalty in the unceded lands, and for disposing of the ceded lands, placing the net proceeds at interest and distributing them in severalty at the end of fifty years. Section 1 required that a census be made of each tribe or band for the purpose of ascertaining whether the proper number of Indians assented to the cession and "of making the allotments and payments" contemplated; and section 3 directed that, following the census, the cession and the removal to the White Earth Reservation, allotments in severalty be made, as soon as practicable, to the Red Lake Chippewas in the Red Lake Reservation, and to the others in the White Earth Reservation, "in conformity with" the general allotment act of February 8, 1887, c. 119, 24 Stat. 388, subject to a proviso that any Indian living on any of the ceded reservations might, in his discretion, take his allotment therein instead of moving to the White Earth Reservation.

The general allotment act of 1887, in conformity with which the Chippewa allotments ...

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