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Loyal Mdewakanton win court battle

MINNEAPOLIS -- Membership in a Dakota tribe is expected to more than double
after an accurate list of lineal descendants of the Loyalist Mdewakanton is
complied and verified, as ordered by a federal court.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Charles Lettow has denied a U.S. Justice
Department motion to reconsider his earlier ruling that gave the
descendants of the Loyalist Mdewakanton rights to land in Minnesota.

Lettow also ruled that the federal government breached its trust
obligations to the Loyalist Mdewakantons and their descendants when in a
1980 congressional act it put the land into trust for three federally
recognized Dakota communities -- Prairie Island, Shakopee and Lower Sioux.
That act violated an 1886 contract signed by Mdewakanton leader John
Bluestone, which gave that land to the Mdewakanton who were descendants of
those who pledged loyalty to the United States in 1862.

Previously the land was either assigned to individual loyalists or leased,
with the proceeds from the lease paid to the loyalists.

The loyalists want the land returned to them and Mdewakanton tribal
membership, with full political power, restored. Lease revenues that were
given to groups other than the loyalist's lineal descendants constitutes a
breach of the contractual agreement by the federal government, the
plaintiffs argued. Today's lineal descendants want compensation for the
lost revenues.

Lettow's latest decision rejected the federal government's claim that it
didn't mismanage the trust on behalf of the lineal descendants. He also
rejected the argument that the 1886 contract did not authorize a trust
responsibility to the loyalists.

Lettow ordered the government to perform an accounting to determine the
size of financial compensation that is owed the loyalists' descendants.

The loyalists assert that the litigation is not about money: it is about
principle, political power and justice. And it's about land, said Barbara
Feezor Buttes, great-granddaughter of John Bluestone.

"We've won a tremendous victory and we've done this as a grass-roots
movement. It was done in a respectful way. It is so exciting," Buttes said.

Buttes' grandmother, Louise Bluestone Smith, began the process of
identifying those descendants of her father's era that had been left out of
membership in the three tribes. Bluestone Smith died before a clear ruling
could be made. Buttes said her grandmother wanted to find and identify all
the people and bring them in.

"These were the things she talked about when she passed away," Buttes said.

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A problem has arisen: The three tribes own successful casinos located on
the land in question. And the Shakopee Community, located at Prior Lake,
Minn., is on 258 acres of land that was awarded to Bluestone. The Shakopee
wants to keep its membership at 186; but the current collection of
descendancy data indicates that membership would increase to 2,000.

The membership of the Mdewakanton could increase by more than 2,500 people
-- all lineal descendants of the original 208 loyalists. The loyalists have
spent more than two years collecting data on band members with the
intention of reuniting the land and the people.

Many of the Shakopee Band's elected officials are not eligible for
membership in the band because they have no connection to the loyalists,
Buttes said. "This will come out" when the membership list is compiled.

Stanley Crooks, chairman of the Shakopee Band, had no comment. The
Department of the Interior did not respond by press time.

"We need to present this from a modern perspective," said Erick Kaardal,
attorney for the loyalists. "I think it is a very compelling story that you
have someone saying, 'Look, I am Mdewakanton and why are all these other
people here?'"

The end result could mean that a new tribal government would be formed.
Buttes said this government should have several districts and one district
at large because most of the people are at large.

"The way it is now, there is no equality. With one government there could
be equality," she said.

Most Dakota were removed from Minnesota in 1863 in retaliation for the 1862
conflict that left many settlers and Dakota dead. The largest mass hanging
in this country's history took place in Mankato in 1862, when 38 Dakota men
were hanged in front of a large gathering of settlers.

Under the federal displacement policy of the mid-19th century, many of the
lineal descendants were scattered throughout the region and many sent to
the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. To the Mdewakanton, who
originally lived along the Minnesota River, Crow Creek was a stark spot on
the prairie along the Missouri River. Most could not survive the ordeal:
many died en route or succumbed to starvation after they arrived.

Many Dakota eventually went down the Missouri River to the site in Nebraska
now occupied by the Santee Sioux Reservation.

Anyone who believes they are lineal descendants of the original 208
loyalists from 1862 have until April 28, 2006 to get their names placed on
the roll -- they may have a claim to the economic benefits and also to the
land.

Many of the 2,500 who have already been identified come from the three
communities in Minnesota, and others from the nine reservations in South
Dakota and the Santee Reservation in Nebraska.