A federal appeals court has ruled against a large group of Mdewakanton Dakota Indians attempting to claim a share of the lands and gambling revenues from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota, Prairie Island Dakota and Lower Sioux Dakota bands in Minnesota.
The lawsuit, Wolfchild vs. U.S., was filed in 2003 by the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate (MMDO), and claimed that as descendants of Mdewakanton Indians who helped white settlers during the 1862 Dakota rebellion in Minnesota, it has legal rights to the Shakopee and Prairie Island casinos and lands.
The descendants, numbering more than 20,000 in the United States and Canada, were bolstered in recent years by decisions in the Federal Court of Claims’ finding that some of the lands forming part of the present-day Mystic Lake and Treasure Island casinos were intended for their use.
A federal judge ruled in 2007 that the descendents could sue the U.S.
government for mismanagement of tribal lands occupied by the three
Dakota tribes that reside in the state.
But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March invalidated earlier
rulings that found the government had breached a legal 19th-century
trust to the “loyal Mdewakanton.”
The court also found that Congress did nothing wrong in 1980 when it
handed control of the lands to the present-day Shakopee Mdewakanton
Dakota Community, which owns the Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos,
and the Prairie Island Indian Community, which owns Treasure Island
Resort and Casino. The three casinos are among the most successful
casinos in Minnesota, with Mystic Lake being one of the most successful
in the country.
According to the court decision, the U.S. Interior Department does not
owe trust land or money to the descendents even though appropriation
acts created in 1888, 1889 and 1890 stated that the federal government
was supposed to hold land for the “permanent benefit” of the Minnesota
Mdewakanton listed on the census.
The ruling states that even if those early appropriation acts could be
interpreted as creating a trust for descendents, the 1980 act approved
by Congress confirms that the land belongs to the reservations operated
by the Shakopee, Prairie Island and Lower Sioux Dakota communties.
Erick Kaardal, a Minneapolis attorney who represents Wolfchild and some
7,500 other Mdewakanton Sioux, said that he plans to appeal, probably
to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Brian O’Neill, an attorney for the
Shakopee tribe, said an appeal would be pointless. “This should be the
end of it,” he said. “It ought to be closure for an awful lot of folks
who put their faith on this less-than-substantial lawsuit.”