Appeals court lifts sanctions in long-running Dakota land dispute

Sheldon Wolfchild is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks the rights to land promised to the loyal Mdewakanton in Minnesota. Photo by Steven McGeary

Dakota descendants in Minnesota who are seeking rights to the land promised to their ancestors secured a small victory in the long-running case.

On June 1, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs and attorneys in the Wolfchild case do not have to pay sanctions of more than $281,000. A federal judge had said their claims were "frivolous" but the court said that wasn't the case.

"Appellants and their counsel have made good-faith, nonfrivolous arguments distinguishing, calling for modifications, or seeking extensions of existing law," Judge Myron H. Bright wrote in the unanimous decision. "We, therefore, conclude the district court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions upon Appellants and their counsel."

But the court upheld the dismissal of the underlying issue in the dispute -- whether the loyal Mdewakanton can pursue rights to the 12 square miles that were promised to their ancestors. Bright said Congress did not provide a "private remedy" when it set aside the lands in 1863.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Arguments in Sheldon Wolfchild v. Redwood County December 17, 2015

"Because the loyal Mdewakanton are not entitled to a declaration of the exclusive right and title of the twelve square miles under the 1863 Act, the loyal Mdewakanton have no property rights upon which to base federal common law claims for ejectment and trespass," the decision stated.

The Wolfchild plaintiffs named several municipalities, dozens of individuals and the Lower Sioux Indian Community as defendants. Some of the land that was promised in the 1863 is now part of the reservation of the Lower Sioux Indian Community, whose leaders opposed the lawsuit.

The tribe cited sovereign immunity in response to the lawsuit but the 8th Circuit said it didn't need to decide that issue because the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief.

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

Get the Story:
U.S. appeals court issues mixed ruling in Indian lands case (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 6/3)

8th Circuit Court of Appeals:
Wolfchild v. Redwood County (June 1, 2016)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Judge sanctions plaintiffs and attorneys in Dakota land dispute (6/11)
Sheldon Wolfchild: Return land promised to Dakota descendants (04/13)
Judge dismisses suit seeking return of Dakota land in Minnesota (03/11)
Lower Sioux Indian Community promises defense of land rights (05/27)
Lawsuit seeks establishment of new reservation in Minnesota (5/22)
Dakota descendants sue for return of land promised by 1863 law (5/21)
Supreme Court turns down Dakota trust mismanagement case (03/10)
Supreme Court asked to hear Dakota trust mismanagement case (02/19)
Dakota descendants back in court over mismanagement of trust (1/28)
Native Sun News: Loyal Mdewakanton Dakota win a partial ruling (1/19)
Dakota descendants win another round in trust management suit (1/11) Supreme Court declines Dakota descendants trust case (4/19)
Tribes working to keep cases away from Supreme Court (3/31)
Appeal planned in Dakota trust mismanagement case (4/13)
Turtle Talk: Issues at play in Dakota trust case (3/11)
Appeals court decision in Dakota trust case (3/10)
Judge expands Dakota trust mismanagement suit (4/30)
Dakota descendants fight for land trust rights (4/23)
Dakota descendants await payment in trust case (8/14)
Judge reaffirms ruling in Dakota trust fund lawsuit (12/19)
Meetings set in Mdewakanton trust fund lawsuit (01/28)
Dakota descendants win round in trust fund case (10/29)
Dakota descendants file trust mismanagement suit (11/19)
Minn. tribes challenged on membership policies (11/17)