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South Dakota continues land-into-trust battle

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ROSEBUD, S.D. - The state of South Dakota, with an appeal to the U.S.
Supreme Court, could impact how all federally recognized tribes have land
put into trust status.

A small parcel of land, 91 acres owned by the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, is
at the center of a controversial and locally-divisive issue between the
state and the tribes of the area. The state resurrected a lawsuit against
Lower Brule to prevent trust status for the 91 acres located along
Interstate 90 and not within the boundaries of the reservation.

Fourteen years ago the tribe bought the land to construct a casino. County
and state residents protested because of the possible loss in tax revenue.
The tribal council has since passed a resolution that would not authorize a
casino. Other business opportunities abound because of the proximity to the
highly-traveled interstate.

But after much comment from the new governor, Republican Mike Rounds, about
cooperative efforts between the state and the tribes he authorized the
resurrection of the appeal process. The state earlier lost a lower court
case and the high court remanded the case to the lower court and to the
Department of Interior without any decision in the matter.

What is at stake, said Steve Emery, attorney for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe,
is acquisition of lands that were taken from the tribes; and the state of
South Dakota claims the law that allows the Secretary of Interior to put
land into trust is unconstitutional.

Emery asked the members of the state-tribal relations committee to study
the land into trust issue and the state lawsuit. Republican Representative
Stan Adelstein, committee chairman, said he would invite the state's
Attorney General Larry Long to the next meeting to explain his reasoning
for the appeal.

Emery said that if the tribes lose, they will have to go to Congress every
time they try to put an acre of land into trust.

At stake is the entire Black Hills, almost all of western South Dakota,
which after the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty became Indian territory only to be
broken up through allotment acts and illegally-taken land.

All tribes have plans to reacquire their traditional lands, lands that were
taken and awarded to non-Indian settlers and others. But if South Dakota
prevails, these plans will fall to difficult if not impossible
land-into-trust processes.

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Rosebud Tribal Councilman Rodney Bordeaux told the committee the tribe
wants its tribal lands back.

"You need to understand that, including the Black Hills, this is land that
was illegally taken. The tribe wasn't sophisticated enough in the past to
fight the battles. We want to restore our former land," he said.

"When I first looked at this case I was really concerned. I believe the
state is trying to waste time when it has already lost," said Michael
LaPointe, state senator from District 27, which covers the Rosebud
Reservation. LaPointe is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

"It would be nice for the attorney general to explain his rationale for
[the appeal]. The bottom line is the fear of a casino and the loss of tax
revenue. With rational discussions over this it would not have ended up in
court in the first place," LaPointe said.

Fear of land into trust permeates the political psyche in South Dakota.
Some would-be American Indian candidates for county commissioners in Todd
County were defeated because the opposition circulated word that they
wanted to put land into trust; thus a loss of tax revenues.

The Secretary of Interior made changes in the rules that govern the
land-into-trust process. Now the tribes must go through all civic levels,
state, county and community before it can present the case to the
Department of Interior.

There are separate rules for land within the boundaries of the reservations
and lands outside reservations.

"Since 1934 the percentage of land that has been reacquired is miniscule.
I'm referring to the lands we have lost," Emery said.

The state will eventually have to engage the tribes in serious
conversations over land, health care, economic development and other issues
because if the population trend continues, the number of American Indians
in the state will grow faster than that of the non-Indian population. In
fact as some non-Indian populated counties lost population while the
reservations increased in population.

"This is exactly the time to talk about the future of South Dakota. We are
a burgeoning population. Eagle Butte [on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation] is the fastest growing town in South Dakota. Our median age is
18 and the birth rate is likely to increase. There is going to be a
change," Emery said.