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ROFF v. BURNEY.

decided: November 29, 1897.

ROFF
v.
BURNEY.



ERROR TO THE UNITED STATES COURT FOR THE INDIAN TERRITORY.

Author: Brewer

[ 168 U.S. Page 221]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The condition of the Indians and Indian tribes within the limits of the United States is anomalous. The tribes, though in certain respeets regarded as possessing the attributes of nationality, are held to be not foreign, but domestic dependent nations. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 5 Pet. 1; Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515; Choctaw Nation v. United States, 119 U.S. 1; Cherokee Nation v. Kansas Railway Company, 135 U.S. 641. While the Indians and the territory which may have been specially set apart for their use are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and Congress may pass such laws as it sees fit prescribing the rules governing the

[ 168 U.S. Page 222]

     intercourse of the Indians with one another and with citizens of the United States, and also the courts in which all controversies to which an Indian may be a party shall be submitted, United States v. Rogers, 4 How. 567; United States v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375; Gon-Shay-Ee, Petitioner, 130 U.S. 343; Cherokee Nation v. Kansas Railway Company, supra, the mere fact that a citizen of the United States has become a member of an Indian tribe by adoption may not necessarily cancel his citizenship. As said by Chief Justice Taney, in United States v. Rogers, supra, p. 573, "whatever obligations the prisoner may have taken upon himself by becoming a Cherokee by adoption, his responsibility to the laws of the United States remained unchanged and undiminished." Indeed, by section 43 of the act of May 2, 1890, c. 182, 26 Stat. 99, provision is made for the naturalization of members of the Indian tribes in the Indian Territory, with a proviso "that the Indians who become citizens of the United States under the provisions of this act do not forfeit or lose any rights or privileges they enjoy or are entitled to as members of the tribe or nation to which they belong."

Now, according to this complaint, plaintiff was a citizen of the United States. Matilda Bourland was not a Chickasaw by blood, but one upon whom the right of Chickasaw citizenship had been conferred by an act of the Chickasaw legislature. The citizenship which the Chickasaw legislature could confer it could withdraw. The only restriction on the power of the Chickasaw Nation to legislate in respect to its internal affairs is that such legislation shall not conflict with the Constitution or laws of the United States, and know of no provision of such Constitution or laws which would be set at naught by the action of a political community like this in withdrawing privileges of membership in the community once conferred. The Chickasaw legislature, by the second act, whose meaning is clear though its phraseology may not be beyond criticism, not only repealed the prior act but cancelled the rights of citizenship granted thereby, and further directed the governor to remove the parties named therein and their descendants beyond the limits of the nation. This act was

[ 168 U.S. Page 223]

     not one simply taking effect as of the date of its passage, and then withdrawing rights admitted to have been theretofore legally granted, but was retroactive in its scope, and purported to annul and destroy all that had ever been attempted to be done in respect to the matter. Whether any rights of property could be taken away by such subsequent act need not be considered. It is enough to hold that all personal rights founded on the mere status created by the prior act fell when that status was destroyed. Plaintiff never took any oath of allegiance to the Chickasaw Nation; never in terms relinquished his full rights as a citizen of the United States. Doubtless, by intermarriage with one who was at the time by legislative act a Chickasaw citizen, he acquired the rights and privileges of a member of that tribe or nation, but when that which was the foundation upon which such acquisition rested was taken away by act of the nation all those rights and privileges ceased. The tie which bound him to the nation was his wife's citizenship. That tie the nation destroyed. Its destruction released him. That such was the effect of this legislative act is established by the conduct of the Chickasaw government and all its officials, for they have refused to recognize plaintiff as any longer a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and the courts of that nation have declined to entertain jurisdiction of any suits brought by him against a Chickasaw. The validity of the act withdrawing citizenship from the wife of plaintiff, and the consequent withdrawal from plaintiff of all the rights and privileges of citizenship in the Chickasaw Nation, has been practically determined by the authorities of that nation, and that determination is not subject to correction by any direct appeal from the judgment of the Chickasaw courts. It follows, therefore, that his right as a citizen of the United States to appeal to the Federal courts to take jurisdiction of his claims against one of the Chickasaw Nation must be sustained, for it cannot be that a citizen of the United States residing in the Chickasaw Nation can be wronged without an opportunity of redress in some judicial tribunal. We are of opinion, therefore, that the plea to the jurisdiction was wrongfully

[ 168 U.S. Page 224]

     sustained, and the judgment of the United States Court for the Indian Territory will be

Reversed and the case remanded, with instructions to overrule the plea to the jurisdiction.

18971129

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