Home > JHR > Vol. 21 > Iss. 3 (2023)
"The only compensation for land is land."1
Hundreds of treaties signed. Hundreds of treaties broken. The juvenile United States grew in size as independent Native nations ceded their territory through treaties. Thirsting for more land, the United States broke its promises and continued its manifest destiny westward. And what of tribes’ treaty rights to land? Some Native nations received financial compensation for treaty violations. But money is crumbs to many whose traditional homelands are still colonized.
Tribes are entitled to the land promised to them under treaties—instruments supposedly carrying the force of federal law. Land reparations are a partial resolution to address land theft. It is one apparatus to strengthen tribal sovereignty.
This comment provides an inventory of where the federal government may strengthen existing treaty rights to land or increase the acreage of indigenous-held land. Each of the recommendations is a proxy to bolster land reparations for Native Americans.
Part I briefly summarizes how the federal government seized land from indigenous tribes and has yet to meaningfully remedy this harm. Part II explores congressional and judicial areas that should be modified to support land reparations. Part III describes treaty rights litigation and explains these cases’ broader impact on land reparations. Part IV explains how treaties can buttress administrative fee-to-trust land acquisitions. Part V discusses examples of how, if adopted into domestic legislation, international legal frameworks provide a structure for land reparations.
Northwestern University and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law occupy the traditional land of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi tribes. Other tribes impacted by the colonization of Chicago include the Ho’Chunk, Miami, Menominee, Otoe, Missouria, Iowas, Meskwaki, Sauk, Wea, Piankashaw, Kickapoo, and Illini Confederacy.
Members of 157 indigenous nations live in Chicago today, which remains the largest population of Native Americans in the Midwest. “The City of Chicago would not exist” if not for the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, 1816 Treaty of St. Louis, 1821 Treaty of Chicago, and the 1833 Treaty of Chicago.
encourage every reader: understand the story of the land you occupy. Learn whose traditional homelands you live on. Learn whether an indigenous tribe has treaty rights to, or on, the land you occupy.
1 Sam Levin, ‘This Is All Stolen Land’: Native Americans Want More Than California’s Apology, THE GUARDIAN (Jun. 21, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/20/california-native-americans-governor-apology-reparations.
Treaties as a Tool for Native American Land Reparations,
Nw. J. Hum. Rts.