EX PARTE CROW DOG
In August, 1881, a Native American named Kan-gi-Shun-ca (Crow Dog, in English) shot and killed another Native American on the Great Sioux Reservation in present-day South Dakota. The Sioux tribal government convicted Crow Dog and, applying traditional Sioux law, ordered him to pay restitution to the victim's family. The government of the Dakota Territory also charged Crow Dog with murder, and, after being found guilty, Crow Dog was sentenced to death. Crow Dog appealed for a writ of habeas corpus, and argued that the federal court lacked jurisdiction, pointing to an 1834 act that specifically excluded crimes committed by one Native American on another from federal jurisdiction. The government argued that an 1868 treaty with the Sioux that required the tribe surrender criminals to United States superseded the earlier statute.
Did federal law grant the Dakota Territory court jurisdiction over the murder for which Crow Dog was convicted?
No. In a 9-0 decision authored by Justice Stanley Matthews, the Court concluded that Congress had not granted federal courts jurisdiction over the murder of one Native American by another. The Court interpreted the 1868 treaty's stipulation that criminals be surrendered to the federal government in context, and, given that the treaty was made between two parties, "the party of whites and their allies" and "tribe of Indians," concluded the provision did not conflict with or repeal the 1834 law. Justice Matthews' opinion goes on to note that, while the law is clearly conflicted on the question because the 1834 law was never expressly repealed, there was no "positive repugnancy between the provisions of the new laws and those of the old" that would entail an implied repeal.