Current Work Of NRS Involving Indian Law Litigation

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NRS | Native Americans

Formation and Subsequent History of the Indian Claims Section

Initially, responsibility for conducting the ICCA litigation was given to the Trial Section. However, in 1953, the Lands Division adopted a 1952 management study recommendation that this specialized Indian litigation merited the creation of a new section to handle the ICCA cases. As a result, the Indian Claims Section was established on December 17, 1953.1

In 1963, the Assistant Attorney General of the Land and Natural Resources Division, Ramsey Clark, wrote a description of the Indian Claims Section. By way of introduction, he observed:

The Indian Claims Section is involved in a unique experience in government, law, history, anthropology, and land appraisal. It is difficult to imagine a field of law which offers greater challenge to an attorney's ingenuity, resourcefulness, tenacity and legal skill.2

The first Chief of the new Section was Ralph Barney, a native of Oklahoma who had filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of the Cherokees in the 1930's before coming to Justice. In appearance, Ralph Barney was practically a double for comedian Charlie Weaver (real name Cliff Arquette). Ralph was no comedian, however. He had a rather gruff demeanor and kept to himself; the line attorneys were strictly warned not to bother him unless they were confronting a real emergency! In 1968, A. Donald Mileur (also a native of Oklahoma) transferred from the Appellate Section of the Land and Natural Resources Division (as ENRD was then named) to the Indian Claims Section and became the Assistant Chief of the Section.

In April 1974, Ralph Barney retired and was replaced by A. Donald Mileur. When the Carter Administration came into office in 1977, the Indian Claims Section was directed to make its top priority the settlement of these "old"cases.

By early 1980, the Division's management had decided that the Indian Claims Section had not adequately implemented the Carter Administration's mandate to make settlement of the ICCA cases its primary mission. In spring 1980, Donald Mileur was replaced by Richard Beal, the Assistant Chief, who had promised the front office that he would make settlement of these cases his top priority. It is noteworthy that, as of spring 1980, there were still about 175 to 200 ICCA dockets that had not been resolved. The Reagan Administration kept the Carter mandate in force; during the next three years, Mr. Beal lived up to his word and settled many of these remaining dockets.

During the first week of July 1983, James E. Brookshire, a trial attorney in the General Litigation Section, began his tenure as Chief of the Indian Claims Section. In December 1985, he became the Deputy Chief of the General Litigation Section, and Edward Passarelli became the Acting Chief of the Indian Claims Section.

After the Indian Claims Section was merged with the General Litigation Section on April 28, 1986, the General Litigation Section assumed responsibility for litigating the remaining ICCA cases. Our records show that as of April 28, 1986, there were about 30 ICCA dockets left to resolve. General Litigation began to vigorously pursue settlement of the remaining ICCA cases.


1 A 1952 management study of the Lands Division had recommended that a new section be carved out of the Trial Section (the predecessor-in-interest of the General Litigation Section) to defend against ICCA claims. See AA Management Study of Certain Elements of the Department of Justice United States Government@ by Griffenhagen & Associates, Vol. I at 1-19 and 1-20; Vol. II at 5-2 and 5-23 (December 1952). It is important to note that during its tenure the Indian Claims Section handled some non-ICCA cases as well.

2 This description was published in Volume I of the Lands Division Journal.


Updated May 12, 2015

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