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.