CITY OF POLSON v. CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE FLATHEAD RESERVATION
459 U.S. 977

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U.S. Supreme Court

CITY OF POLSON v. CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE FLATHEAD RESERVATION , 459 U.S. 977 (1982)

459 U.S. 977

CITY OF POLSON, MONTANA v. CONFEDERATED SALISH AND KOOTENAI TRIBES OF the FLATHEAD RESERVATION, MONTANA, et al No. 81-2406

James M. NAMEN et al. v. CONFEDERATED SALISH AND KOOTENAI TRIBES OF the FLATHEAD RESERVATION, MONTANA, et al No. 82-22

Supreme Court of the United States November 1, 1982

On petitions for writs of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The petitions for writs of certiorari are denied.

Justice REHNQUIST, with whom Justice WHITE joins, dissenting.

In deciding this case, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that (1) the historic Flathead Reservation was not terminated by an Act of Congress in 1904; (2) by virtue of the Treaty of Hell Gate the title to the bed and banks of the south half of Flathead Lake, a large inland lake in northwestern Montana, was retained by the United States as trustee for respondent Tribe, rather than passing to the State of Montana at the time the latter was admitted to the Union; and (3) respondent Tribe has the authority to regulate the riparian rights of non-Indian owners of land abutting Flathead Lake. In my opinion, the decision of the Court of Appeals with respect to the "termination" issue was based on principles derived from cases such as Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip, 430 U.S. 584 (1977), DeCoteau v. District County Court, 420 U.S. 425 (1975), and Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481 (1973), and does not warrant review here. With respect to the "ownership" issue and the "regulatory" issue, as they were described by the Court of Appeals, however, I believe there is reason to think that the Court of Appeals incorrectly applied our decisions in Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 67 L. Ed.2d 493 (1981), Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191, 98 S. Ct. 1011 (1978), and United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313 (1978), and I would grant certiorari to review these determinations.

Page 459 U.S. 977 , 978

The "ownership" issue. This requires deciding who owns the southern half of the bed and banks of Flathead Lake. The Court of Appeals relied on its own decision 40 years ago in Montana Power Company v. Rochester, 127 F.2d 189 (CA9 1942). Petitioners contended in the Court of Appeals that Rochester had been significantly undercut by our decision in Montana v. United States, supra, where we held that the treaty establishing the Crow Indian Reservation had not conveyed to the Indians beneficial ownership of the bed of the Big Horn River flowing through the Reservation. The Court of Appeals advanced several factual distinctions between the execution of the treaty in Montana and the execution of the Treaty of Hell Gate involved in this case. But the Court of Appeals apparently also disagreed with a portion of this Court's reasoning in Montana. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals stated:

"The Montana Court emphasized that 'Congress was, of course, aware of this presumption once it was established by this Court.' ( Citation omitted). There is no evidence, however, that the presumption against pre-statehood federal grants of land under navigable waters had been established at the time of the Hell Gate Treaty was negotiated and ratified. The earliest statement of the presumption appeared seven decades later...." 665 F.2d 951, 961, n. 27 (CA9 1982).

While this may be a proper statement of the chronology, it would surely be as applicable to the Crow treaty involved in Montana as to the Treaty of Hell Gate involved in this case.

It would appear that the Court of Appeals decision in Rochester, supra, was a dispute between a licensee under the Federal Power Commission which had built a dam at the outlet of Flathead Lake and a non-Indian owner of patented land. But the Rochester court did not even purport to discuss the principle laid down in United States v. Holt State Bank, 270 U.S. 49 (1926), and reaffirmed in Montana, supra, that there is no conveyance of ownership where there [459 U.S. 977 , 979]


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