FROM THE ARCHIVE

Statement of Dallas Massey Sr. Chairman
White Mountain Apache Tribe
Regarding Supreme Court Decision in
United States v. White Mountain Apache Trib

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TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2003

“The White Mountain Apache Tribe is extremely pleased with today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision,” stated Tribal Chairman Dallas Massey, Sr., commenting on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that the United States can be liable for its failure to protect and maintain the Tribe’s Fort Apache trust property.

“We believe that the Supreme Court applied its common sense”, said Chairman Massey, “when the Court concluded that the United States as the trustee using and administrating our trust property may not allow it to fall into ruin. Morally and legally we thought we were right. The prayers of our people and of Indian people across this land have been answered in the Court’s opinion which reaffirms this Nation’s long standing fiduciary relationship with Indian Tribes.”

Chairman Massey does not think the Court’s decision will create a landslide of new claims against the United States by Tribes. In his view, the decision confirms the Court’s earlier 1983 Mitchell II decision, which held that when the Federal Government manages or controls Indian trust assets it must do so as any reasonable Trustee would do in the same situation. Chairman Massey pointed out that “the White Mountain Apache Tribe has not remained idle since the lawsuit was filed in 1999. We have put our own efforts and money together with state, private and federal grants into restoring and repairing five of the historic buildings”.

“Last summer our sacred lands were devastated by a fire that destroyed over 276,000 acres of beautiful forest land,” said Chairman Massey. “This decision by the Supreme Court gives us hope that we are beginning our journey of recovery from that fire.” He observed that “many warned us that the Supreme Court would take the opportunity in our claim against the Federal Government to rewrite the trust obligation of the United States to Indian Tribes, but this opinion reaffirms the historic trust relationship between the indigenous peoples of this great land and the United States of America to which the Indian people have pledged their life and spirit for its protection.”

In today’s ruling the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Federal Claims for further proceedings. The matter may take up to a year or more before it is concluded.