Judge sanctions plaintiffs and attorneys in Dakota land dispute

Sheldon Wolfchild serves as 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 imposed "severe sanctions" on the plaintiffs and attorneys in a long-running lawsuit that sought the return of land promised to the Dakota people in the late 1800s.

Judge Michael Davis also ordered the Wolfchild plaintiffs to post a $200,000 appeal bond. He said the nine published opinions in the case demonstrated the "frivolous" nature of the litigation.

"Those nine opinions also assist in demonstrating that the claims asserted in this case are so completely frivolous and without a factual or legal basis that they had to have been brought in bad faith," Davis wrote in a decision on Tuesday.

MinnPost: Sheldon Wolfchild traces Dakota War history

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.

In a ruling in March, Davis 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 March 5 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."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the sanctions matter and other documents in the case, Wolfchild v. Redwood County.

Get the Story:
Judge sanctions attorney for "frivolous" claims in tribal land dispute (MPR News 6/10)

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