ST. PAUL, Minn. - Lineal descendants of Mdewakanton Dakota who signed a
contract more than a century ago with the federal government have prevailed
in federal court for restoration of rights to the land and compensation for
years of federal and congressional breach of the contract.
"We are happy that we won," said Barbara Feezor Buttes, chief of the group
called the Loyalist Mdewakanton.
"We want the 1886 land back that Congress gave us. It was never taken away
from us," she said.
Judge Charles F. Lettow of the Federal Court of Claims in Washington, D.C.
ruled that a 1980 Congressional act breached an 1886 contract that gave
those Mdewakanton who pledged loyalty to the United States in 1862 land
that is now part of three communities of Dakota.
The 1980 statute turned control of the Loyalists land over to three
communities without consideration of the Loyalists' descendants who,
according to the court ruling, rightfully own the land.
"The federal government violated the trust for many years. This is not
something that came up yesterday," Buttes said.
Today there are 1,200 members of the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate
whose lineage can be traced to original 208 Loyalists of 1862. The attempt
to have the lands returned began prior to any gaming that is now taking
place on those lands. The three communities, Prior Lake, home to the
Shakopee Mdewakanton Community owners of Mystic Lake Casino; Prairie Island
Community and the Lower Sioux Community, both casino and hotel owners.
Buttes claims the land on which those casinos are located belongs to the
Loyalist Mdewakanton and they want compensation, not from the tribes but
from the federal government, which breached the contract.
Judge Lettow gave the federal government until Feb. 10, 2005 to make a
decision about the ruling. It is expected that if an appeal is not filed
the compensation will have to come from either the federal government
directly or the government will have to sue the tribes for the revenue.
"This is our land and we will build the future for the next seven
generations on it," Buttes said.
"The people at Shakopee benefited at your expense," said a group of
supporters at a celebratory gathering.
But Buttes told Indian Country Today that it is not all about the money,
it's more about principle and the land. But she did admit that among the
group of 1,200 she was not naive enough to believe that some had not signed
up because of the potential for a big payday.
"We are human beings, and among us we all have kids, some who are lineal
descendants would not be involved with activities if it weren't for the
potential to get money. I've heard some people say if they get the money
they will donate it to charity," Buttes said.
Most at stake, however, is that the Loyalists want their name back with
identity that lies with the land and a political position, Buttes said.
"By distributing income, profits and proceeds arising from the 1886 lands
to individuals who are not lineal descendants, the United States has
allegedly breached its contractual duty to the plaintiffs," Judge Lettow
wrote in his decision.
The original contract written in 1886 and signed by John Bluestone,
compensated the Mdewakanton Dakota with some 258 acres of land now used by
the Shakopee Community; 600 acres now occupied by the Lower Sioux Community
and 120 acres is part of the Prairie Island Community.
The 1980 statute turned that land over to the communities to be held in
trust by the federal government. Until that time the Department of Interior
treated the 1886 lands as being held in trust for the exclusive benefit of
the Loyalist Mdewakanton and their descendants.
Most of the members of the three communities are not lineal descendants of
the families that are on the 1886 census roles, Buttes said. Some of the
members of the Loyalist group today are also enrolled members of one of the
The Loyalists are so named because during the 1862 Minnesota or Mankato
Conflict they were not directly involved in the fight. The conflict ended
with the deaths of hundreds of non-Indian settlers and Dakota. The
Mdewakanton Dakota leaders fought for survival after rations and
commodities were withheld from them. They were defeated and expelled from
Minnesota. Up to 10,000 Dakota were moved to the Crow Creek Reservation in
South Dakota where many died from the harshness of the territory, others
moved down river to Santee, Neb. Many of them made their way back to
The Loyalists did not fight against the non-Indian settlers and pledged
support to the governments, therefore they were compensated with land. The
first attempt to give the Loyalists compensation was in 1863, but the
action died in Congress and was then reinstated in 1888, 1889 and 1890.
Following the 1862 conflict all of the lands occupied by the Dakota were
confiscated even the homes and land of the Loyalists.
Buttes' grandmother, Louis Bluestone Smith, who lived on the land her
great, great grandfather, John Bluestone acquired as the result of the
contract with the Loyalists began legal battles with the Shakopee Community
Business Council in 1980 and continued until she died in 1996. On her death
bed she told Buttes: "Don't give up, we've already won."
The three communities were part of the legal proceedings as amicae
participants and had no comment on the ruling. The BIA also had no comment
on the ruling.