News Coverage of Wolfchild Cert Petition Denial

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune via Pechanga:

WASHINGTON – A bitter legal battle ended in defeat for some of the nation’s poorest Indians on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case for sharing the gambling wealth from the Mystic Lake and Treasure Island casinos near the Twin Cities.

The group, led by former Lower Sioux Community Chairman Sheldon Wolfchild, had petitioned the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals ruling that went against them last year.

Although some claims remain, the Supreme Court’s decision leaves intact a ruling that struck at the heart of Wolfchild’s case alleging that the federal government breached a 19th-century trust with the legitimate heirs of the Indian lands at Prior Lake and Prairie Island, where the casinos are located.

“It’s a grave injustice for the real Mdewakanton of Minnesota,” Wolfchild said.

Members of the tight-knit Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community, which runs Mystic Lake as part of a lucrative casino complex near Shakopee, have decried the lawsuit as a groundless money grab.

“This should be the end of a misguided effort to attack the three federally recognized Mdewakanton tribal governments in Minnesota,” said Shakopee Tribal Chairman Stanley Crooks, a distant relative of Wolfchild.

The case, which dates to 2003, is based on historical claims made by descendants of Mdewakanton Indians credited with helping white settlers during the 1862 Dakota rebellion in Minnesota.

Numbering more than 20,000 in the United States and Canada, the descendants laid claim to the proceeds of the lands that form part of the present-day Mystic Lake and Treasure Island casinos.

Some of those descendants, such as Wolfchild, hail from the Lower Sioux Community near Morton, Minn., site of the less profitable Jackpot Junction Casino.

Although many of Wolfchild’s backers across the nation had their eyes on the riches of the casinos near the Twin Cities, their suit sought damages from the U.S. government, not the Shakopee and Prairie Island tribal governments, which were set up in 1980.

Lower Sioux, one of the three Mdewakanton tribal governments in Minnesota, sided with Wolfchild; the Shakopee and Prairie Island communities supported the government.

Wolfchild’s claim, which has divided Indian communities nationwide, was strengthened in a series of lower court rulings that found the federal government had breached a historic land trust when it handed control of the lands to the present-day Shakopee Community, which owns the Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos, and to the Prairie Island Indian Community, which owns Treasure Island at Red Wing, Minn.

The lands, in close proximity to the Twin Cities, had no special value until the 1990s, when casino gambling was introduced on Indian land. Then, according to a U.S. Appeals Court ruling, “the situation changed dramatically.”

Because the government said the disputed properties are held in trust for the modern Mdewakanton communities, Mdewakantons who are not members of those communities have been shut out of the profits from the casinos and related entertainment facilities. Instead, those proceeds have gone to the enrolled members of the Shakopee and Prairie Island communities.

Membership in the two communities is limited to several hundred tribal members, who enjoy millions of dollars in annual gambling profits.

Wolfchild’s backers, many related to Indians who were expelled from Minnesota after the Dakota rebellion, live mostly on economically depressed reservations in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Morton, in Redwood County.

The Shakopee tribe donated $30 million to charity last year, including $1 million to the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest in the nation and also the location of a large group of descendants involved in the suit.

Minneapolis attorney Erick Kardaal, who filed the Wolfchild petition, said that while the Supreme Court decision is a setback, the case will live on in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. “We will continue to make an effort to vindicate their rights,” he said.