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Court rules group has no claim to casinos

  • March 12, 2009 - 11:20 PM

WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court has ruled against a large group of Mdewakanton Dakota Indians claiming a share of the lands and gambling revenues from casinos in Prior Lake and Prairie Island.

The group, led by former Lower Sioux Community Chairman Sheldon Wolfchild, has been suing the U.S. government since 2003, claiming rights to casino riches as descendants of Mdewakanton Indians who helped white settlers during the 1862 Dakota rebellion in Minnesota.

The descendants, numbering more than 20,000 Indians in the United States and Canada, had been bolstered in recent years by decisions in the Federal Court of Claims finding that some of the lands forming part of the present-day Mystic Lake and Treasure Island casinos were intended for their use.

But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday invalidated earlier rulings that found the government had breached a legal 19th-century trust to the "loyal Mdewakanton." The court also found that Congress did nothing wrong in 1980 when it handed control of the lands to the present-day Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, which owns the Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos, and the Prairie Island Indian Community, which owns Treasure Island.

Membership in the two communities is limited to several hundred tribal members who enjoy millions in annual gambling profits. Many of the plaintiffs live on economically depressed reservations in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Morton, Minn.

Erick Kaardal, a Minneapolis attorney who represents Wolfchild and some 7,500 other Mdewakanton Sioux, said Thursday that he plans to appeal, probably to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Brian O'Neill, an attorney for the Shakopee tribe, said an appeal would be pointless. "This should be the end of it," he said. "It ought to be closure for an awful lot of folks who put their faith on this less-than-substantial lawsuit."

KEVIN DIAZ

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