Prior to 1946, in order for tribal Indians to gain access to courts for consideration of claims arising out of treaties between Indians and the United States, a special act of Congress was required in each case conferring jurisdiction on the court of claims to hear a tribe's grievance. Long delays, expense, and in many cases denial of access to court for Indians resulted. Seeking to remedy the situation, in 1946, Congress enacted the Indian Claims Commission Act. Under the Act, an Indian Claims Commission was given extremely broad jurisdiction to adjudicate the many outstanding Indian claims, including those "based upon fair and honorable dealings that are not recognized by any existing rule of law or equity." The Indian Claims Commission Act was applicable, however, only to claims accruing before August 13, 1946, and the Commission itself was to terminate within ten years of its first meeting. Thereafter, Indian claimants were to be entitled to recover in the court of claims "in the same manner, to the same extent, and subject to the same conditions and limitations, and the United States shall be entitled to the same defenses, both at law and in equity" as in cases brought by any other citizen. Because of the unique nature of the relationship between the government and the Indians, and "the peculiar and complex problem of Indian claims, in many instances the courts have had difficulty providing an adequate judicial remedy under the present, more limited, jurisdictional statute. This difficulty is illustrated in United States v. Mitchell, where Indian claimants sought damages for an alleged breach by the government of a fiduciary duty owed to the Indians in managing Indian timber lands.
Gail F. Whittemore, Comment, United States v. Mitchell, 27 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 610 (1981), available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/485/.