Native Sun News: Loyal Mdewakanton Dakota win a partial ruling

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

MORTON, Minnesota — Descendents of the Mdewakanton Dakota who remained loyal to the U.S. Government during the 1862 Dakota War were told by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that they were unfairly denied benefits.

On Dec. 21, 2010 the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued its decision in the Wolfchild case after an Oct. 22, 2010 hearing. It found that the Department of the Interior wrongfully distributed moneys derived from the 1886 lands to the existing communities prior to the passage of the 1980 Act.

However, the ruling is only partial relief. The court ruled that since 1980, the United States has since held the 1886 lands in trust for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Prairie Island Indian Community and the Lower Sioux Indian Community and any proceeds from those lands, can be kept by those communities.

Judge Charles F. Lettow said the plaintiffs are not entitled to money generated on the land after 1980. The exact amount of what they are owed will be determined by the court.

“That $60,000, identified in a report prepared in 1975, had grown to $131,483 by 1980, and, with additional interest since 1980, would be a few times greater than that larger amount by today, thirty years later,” Lettow said in his Dec. 21, 2010, decision.

Lettow will hold a hearing on Friday, Jan. 21, to go over the next steps in the case. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they are considering their options, including a possible appeal on the post-1980 issue.

According to court documents “the lineal descendants of the 1886 Mdewakanton, plaintiffs were entitled to the funds derived from leasing and licensing the 1886 lands prior to the passage of the 1980 Act. The Indian Trust Accounting Statute serves to toll the accrual of the statute of limitations as to this claim, and the 1980 Act did not affect plaintiffs’ entitlement to the leasing and licensing funds generated and obtained prior to the passage of the 1980 Act. The undisputed facts demonstrate that the government disbursed the funds to the three communities rather than to the lineal descendants, thereby contravening the provisions of the Appropriations Acts that dictated that only eligible Mdewakanton could receive the benefits of the Acts and that such benefits be conferred in as equal an amount as practicable."

"Consequently, the government is liable in damages in the amount of these funds. Based upon the text of the Acts and the extensive historical record, which was largely uncontroverted by the parties, the court can ascertain 'no genuine issue as to any material facts.'"

"Nor has the government come forward with specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to its entitlement to the funds derived from leasing and licensing the 1886 lands prior to the passage of the 1980 Act is granted. As explained supra, the Wabasha-Land-Transfer funds are excluded from this grant."

"For the reasons stated the court grants in part and denies in part the government’s motions to dismiss this action. The government’s motion to dismiss as it relates to plaintiffs’ entitlement to the Wabasha-Land-Transfer funds and any revenue derived from the 1886 lands after the passage of the 1980 Act is granted. The government’s motion to dismiss as it relates to plaintiffs’ entitlement to funds derived from leasing and licensing the 1886 lands prior to the passage of the 1980 Act is denied. Accordingly, the court also denies the governments’ motion respecting plaintiffs’ claim for attorneys’ fees. The court grants in full the government’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ count I (trust mismanagement), count II (breach of contract), count III (separately-pled claims of minor plaintiffs), and count V (community governing documents).”

Erick G. Kaardal, attorney for the plaintiffs, stated, “I have received some questions regarding what happens next? The next step is to proceed with satisfying every requirement so that a final judgment can be entered in favor of the plaintiffs. Obviously, the final judgment is limited by the exclusion of post-1980 community revenues. The damages award in the final judgment will only reflect pre-1980 community revenues of three communities in question.”

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at

Court Decision:
Wolfchild v. US (December 21, 2010)

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