Yankton and Santee tribes' time has come

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Just compensation for Missouri River land taken for construction of mainstream dams is just around the corner for the Santee Sioux and Yankton Sioux tribes.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., introduced legislation that will finally compensate the final two tribes on the river. Land was taken and other land was lost to erosion. The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized construction of dams along the Missouri River through the Pick-Sloan Act to benefit downstream states.

"It has taken over four decades for us to recognize the unfulfilled federal obligation to compensate the tribes for the effect of the dams," Daschle said.

"We cannot, of course, recover the lost lands that are now inundated with water and return them to the tribes, but we can provide the resources necessary to improve tribal infrastructure."

The Yankton Sioux Tribe should receive more than $34 million and the Santee Tribe more than $8 million. The money will be placed in trust funds and the tribes will draw on the interest. The Yankton lost 2,851 acres, condemned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and another 400 acres lost through erosion. The Santee lost 593 acres of land near Santee village and another 414 acres on Niobrara Island, part of the reservation.

"The Yankton Sioux Tribe and the Santee Sioux Tribe have not yet received fair compensation for their losses. Their time has come," Daschle said.

Members of the two tribes were forced to relocate wherever they could find space. The entire village of White Swan, one of the major settlements on the reservation, was flooded and no other location provided for the Yankton members to live. Recently low water on the Missouri uncovered a cemetery along the banks of the river. The cemetery was part of the White Swan village. Many graves were relocated by tribal members and the corps.

"This legislation values the importance of redressing tribal claims and self-governance for Nebraska Native American Tribes. It will enable the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska to address past grievances and look forward to investing in its future," said Sen. Bob Kerry, D-Neb., co-sponsor of the bill.

"This self-governance approach will enable the Santee Sioux Tribe to continue to address improving the quality of life of its tribal members."

Other villages, upriver on Lower Brule, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock and Fort Berthold reservations, were completely relocated.

The dams of the Pick-Sloan project have compensated the federal government since the late 1950s with revenues from the hydro-electric power distribution. The tribes only recently were given an opportunity to receive power from the Western Area Power Authority to be used on the reservations.

Daschle said compensation will help economic development on the reservations. Interest from the funds is to be used for economic development; infrastructure development; education, health, recreation and social welfare projects or a combination of the three. The tribes have two years to develop a plan to use interest funds.

"Passage of this legislation not only will right a historic wrong, but in doing so it will improve the lives of Native Americans living on these reservations," Daschle said.

The bill is in the hands of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs headed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.