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Land into trust impediments; South Dakota tribes mired in land use misinformation

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The state of South Dakota, by way of the Attorney
General's office, has established a reputation of standing in the way of
tribal economic development by filing lawsuits that prevent the tribes from
taking land into trust, regardless of whether the land is located on
reservations.

J.C. Crawford, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe, told the
State-Tribal Relations Committee that comments from an official, submitted
as a reason not to take land into trust, stated that South Dakota tribes
had become civilized and didn't need any more land.

"That disturbs me. In this country with a demand for more, it is disturbing
that I won't need land in the future - have we gone so far back?"

Tribes acquire land that is put into trust by the federal government to
improve infrastructure and provide tax-free land for housing so tribal
members can purchase low-cost housing and build economic development
projects, including casinos.

However, there is a perception in the state that when a tribe wants more
land it is to expand gaming. Rep. Jim Putnam, R-Armour, said the tribes
will have to educate the general public about gaming expansion.

"The tribes have two battles: get across to the citizens about money in
lieu of taxes, and the other is gaming expansion."

Lower Brule Chairman Michael Jandreau said the fear of gaming is just that:
a fear.

The state has taken a lawsuit against the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe involving
91 acres of land near Interstate 90 just south of the Lower Brule
Reservation. The land in question is sacred to the Brule and is used now as
a tourist stop, which Jandreau said helps the entire area economically.

The land was purchased 14 years ago with the intent of constructing a
casino. Since then, the tribal council has gone on record as opposing that
idea. Other business developments are under consideration.

The state of South Dakota attorney general's office resurrected a lawsuit
that was considered all but dead in an attempt to stop the land from being
taken into trust.

At the root of tribal leaders criticism is the office of the state's
attorney general. Opponents of the land into trust issue use the tax
argument. Tribal leaders don't buy that argument: the taxes on the land
owned by the Lower Brule are $1,700 per year, Jandreau said. The cost of
fire and police protection far exceeds that tax payment, he said.

"Every tract of land Lower Brule buys, whether within or outside the
boundaries of the reservation, the moment it comes to put into trust the
state and county gets involved.

"Land into trust affects every reservation. They are more able to acquire
land around us, the more strength we garner and the state garners,"
Jandreau said.

"Once in the ownership of the tribe, it is for the tribe to do what it
wants as long as they have a compact, which has to have the concurrence of
the state. In reality it has to be a state relationship; why would we not
want one?"

The State-Tribal Relations Committee has heard the frustrations of the
tribal leaders over land into trust problems for more than two years.

What would the tribal leaders have the committee do?

"I guess identify the role of the attorney general. Is that role the
attorney for the state or is it such an independent office that supersedes
the legislature and executive branch?" Jandreau asked.

"In my limited understanding of the attorney general, it is the attorney
for the client, which is the state and the direction must come from either
of those two bodies."

Each of the state's eight tribal casinos are limited to 250 gaming devices.
Gaming compacts are soon to expire and negotiations for more devices per
casino will be on the table. The governor is able to authorize an increase
in the numbers. Tribal leaders do not consider that to be gaming expansion.

Tom Van Norman, attorney for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a state
representative on the State-Tribal Relations Committee, said the real
question is that when the tribal chairmen go in to negotiate, the positions
brought by the state are not up front.

"You can do gaming only if the state agrees, it is a little disingenuous.

"The real problem is the tribes are trying to get the land base back. When
they have resources and people, they get automatic opposition. The land
Lower Brule talks about is land given by historical chiefs for ceremony,"
Van Norman said.