Judge dismisses suit seeking return of Dakota land in Minnesota

Sheldon Wolfchild has been the lead plaintiff in a series of lawsuits that sought the return of land promised to the loyal Mdewakanton in Minnesota. Photo from Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of Dakota descendants who sought the return of land promised to their ancestors more than 100 years ago.

Congress authorized the selection of land for the loyal Mdewakanton to reward them for supporting the federal government during the 1862 Dakota War in Minnesota. In 1865, the Interior Department set aside 12 square miles for the Dakota and their descendants "forever," the complaint stated.

But the land never ended up in the hands of the loyal Dakotas. Instead, it became a part of three counties and, later, a part of the reservation of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

MinnPost: Sheldon Wolfchild traces Dakota War history

Judge Michael Davis, however, said the Dakota plaintiffs can't sue the tribe due to sovereign immunity. He also dismissed the claims against the counties, individual landowners and other entities, holding that the descendants waited too long to bring their case.

"Plaintiffs do not dispute that by 1891, all land patents for the disputed area had been issued," Davis wrote in the decision. "Plaintiffs thus had notice, for well over one hundred years, that others were in wrongful possession of land to which plaintiffs now claim title."

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sherrill v. Oneida Nation, which has been used to dismiss a slew of tribal land claims, Davis wrote that the "the equitable bar focuses on plaintiffs’ delay in seeking relief, and the disruption that would result to settled and justified expectations regarding land ownership."

The ruling is another blow to the Dakota descendants, whose trust fund mismanagement lawsuit against the federal government was dismissed after they saw a string of victories in early stages of that case.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the newer case, Wolfchild v. Redwood County.

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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Lower Sioux Community (KEYC 3/10)

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