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New lawsuit asks for 12 square miles in southern MN for Dakota descendants

Posted by: Curt Brown Updated: May 21, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Descendants of Dakota Indians have filed a new federal lawsuit, hoping to reclaim 12 square miles in southern Minnesota.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of the great great-grandchildren of Dakota who helped white settlers during the U.S.-Dakota War 152 years ago.

If successful, roughly 100 farmers in Renville, Sibley and Redwood counties would be among those “ejected” from the 12 miles near Morton, Minn.

The legal action is the latest attempt in what has amounted to years of litigation from the great-great grandchildren of so-called “friendly” Dakota who helped white settlers during the U.S.-Dakota War 152 years ago.

An 1863 act of Congress, which has never been repealed, set aside 12 miles for the Dakota who stayed out of the bloody, five-week war and aided white settlers.

A similar attempt to collect damages wound its way through federal claims court, eventually losing on appeal after nearly a dozen years of litigation.

“People wrote us off for dead, but that ruling left the door open to reclaim land in U.S. District Court, so it’s not as far-fetched a concept as it might appear on its face,” said attorney Erick Kaardal, who filed the suit on behalf of as many as 20,000 Dakota descendants.

If his suit succeeds, not only farmers would be kicked off the land, but schools, churches and even the Lower Sioux Community which runs Jackpot Junction casino on its current reservation near Morton.

This latest legal tactic rekindles a long-simmering inner-Dakota clash between the plaintiffs and three federally recognized tribes: the wealthy Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Lower Sioux and the Prairie Island Indian Community near Red Wing. Those three tribes are expected to challenge the lawsuit and keep things as they are.

The 1863 federal act gave “an inheritance to said Indians and their heirs forever,” according to the 35-page lawsuit.

Kaardal said if his side wins the case, which could take years, Dakota descendants from Nebraska to Canada, who were ordered out of Minnesota after the 1862 war, would be “invited back” to what would be a new reservation. Up to 20,000 people could benefit if they are found to have standing as a class, their lawyer said Wednesday.

They would all have to show that their family trees connect back to an 1886 census of 264 Dakota deemed as “friendly” after the war. More than 600 white immigrant settlers were killed in a series of 1862 summer battles, which erupted as Civil War raged down south.

The Dakota who went to war were starving when the food and gold promised in treaties never arrived  -- sparking their decision to try to win back their land. The war ended with the largest mass execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato the day after Christmas in 1862.

Several bands of Dakota resisted the call to war and helped white settlers.

In addition to dozens of farm families named as defendants in the case, a school district and the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota are listed. Kaardal said the next step in the case will be certifying the descendants as a class.

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