U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Celestine, 215 U.S. 278 (1909)
United States v. Celestine
Argued October 14, 1909
Decided December 13, 1909
215 U.S. 278
Although an Indian may be made a citizen of the United States and of the state in which the reservation for his tribe is located, the United States may still retain jurisdiction over him for offenses committed within the limits of the reservation, and so held as to a crime committed by an Indian against another Indian on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington, notwithstanding the Indians had received allotments under the treaties with the Omahas of March 16, 1834, and of Point Elliott of January 22, 1835. Matter chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
of Heff, 197 U. S. 488, distinguished, the Indian in that case being an allottee under the General Allotment Act of February 8, 1887, c. 119, 24 Stat. 388.
Legislation of Congress is to be construed in the interest of the Indians, and, in the absence of a subjection in terms of the individual Indian to state laws and denial of further jurisdiction over him by the United States, a statute will not be construed as a renunciation of jurisdiction by the United States of crimes committed by Indians against Indians on Indian reservations.
At the May term, 1908, of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Washington, an indictment was found against the defendant, the first count of which reads:
"That one Bob Celestine, an Indian, on the thirtieth day of August, in the year of our Lord 1906, within the limits of the Tulalip Indian Reservation, within the boundaries of the State of Washington and within said Western District of Washington, Northern Division, did, with force and arms, make an assault upon one Mary Chealco, an Indian woman, with an ax, which the said Bob Celestine then and there held in his hands, and did then and there feloniously, willfully, knowingly, and with malice aforethought, strike, beat, and mortally wound said Mary Chealco with said ax upon the head of the said Mary Chealco, with intent to kill and murder her, the said Mary Chealco, giving to her, the said Mary Chealco, a mortal wound upon the head, from which mortal wound said Mary Chealco then and there languished and died, within said Tulalip Indian Reservation, in said Western District of Washington."
The second count is in similar terms, but charges in addition that the Tulalip Indian Reservation, where the offense was committed, is "a place under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States." chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
By a special plea, the defendant challenged the jurisdiction of the circuit court, alleging that, at the time of the offense, there had been allotted to him as the head of a family certain lands situate on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, within the limits of the State (then Territory) of Washington, under the provisions of the Treaty of January 22, 1855 (12 Stat. 927), and in accordance with an executive order of December 23, 1873, and that a patent therefor was issued and delivered to him on May 19, 1885; that he was then a member of the Tulalip Tribe of Indians; that ever since that date, he "has been and still is a citizen of the United States, and therefore subject to the laws of the Territory and State of Washington;" that he "was born within the territorial limits of the United States, and has always resided within such limits," and that therefore he was entitled to "all the rights, privileges, and immunities of said citizens of the United States."
This plea also alleged that the murdered woman was a citizen of the United States and the widow of one Chealco Peter, who, like the defendant, had received an allotment of land within the Tulalip Reservation, and a patent thereof similar to that of defendant; that she became entitled to her husband's allotment upon his death, and that the place of the commission of the offense was upon the very land allotted to said Chealco Peter, and without the jurisdiction of the court.
A demurrer by the government to the plea was overruled and judgment entered sustaining the plea.
A writ of error to this Court was then sued out by the United States under authority of the Act of March 2, 1907, 34 Stat. 1246, c. 2564. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary