Nov 20/98: Mohegan sues US, claiming Liberty Island


New York Times
November 20, 1998
Anthony Ramirez

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

NEW YORK -- For years, Timothy J. Stoddard has tried to be noticed in his campaign for American Indian rights. A member of the Mohegan tribe, he and other American Indians sought to celebrate tribal prayer and water ceremonies last year on Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty, but federal authorities prevented the news media from filming the Indians.

On Thursday, Stoddard sought revenge of a legal sort. He filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that Liberty Island was originally owned by Mohegans and other Northeastern tribes like the Manhattans and was never properly sold to the United States.

As a member of one of those tribes, Stoddard is laying claim to Liberty Island, or at least seeking a "third party," like the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, to decide who really owns the land. If he wins, he will seek some of the tourist revenue from the Statue of Liberty.

Stoddard, 35, a computer network engineer from Slingerlands, N.Y., a suburb of Albany, says he is three-eighths Mohegan on his father's side. Bruce Clark, a lawyer, drafted the complaint, but Stoddard said he would represent himself. Stoddard said in his complaint that any land that has not been properly transferred, by deed or treaty, remains Indian land. "We want to be seen as a sovereign nation whose land was usurped," he said.

Lance Liebman, 57, a Columbia University professor of property law, called Stoddard's suit "the latest in a long series of disputes as the United States continues to wrestle with claims that go back to the original occupation of the continent." It is similar to suits filed in China, India, Australia and Canada, he said.

"The view in all these cases is that the rights of native peoples were never properly paid for," Liebman said.

But American law, which has granted land to American Indians in certain cases, is far more complicated than that, Liebman said. It is true that the law says title to land must be properly "extinguished," or resolved, but that can include war or a declaration by Congress, he said. Also, Stoddard has to prove that the Mohegans owned Liberty Island and that he is a Mohegan. "Was that group really there, and can he show continuous descent?" Liebman said.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle, Liebman said, is that courts have consistently ruled that domestic land disputes are to be settled in American courts, not international ones.

For more information on the legal arguments prepared by Dr. Bruce Clark, and his work in Canada before being forced into exile in the US, see:

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