For almost a year, the city of Prior Lake and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community have been at odds over a 95-acre piece of land.
The tribe wants to put the parcel into trust, a federal designation that would ensure permanent, tax-free ownership. But the city wants to build a road there — and some local leaders are worried that standing by while more land is put into trust will set an unwieldy precedent.
About 2,000 of the tribe’s nearly 4,000 acres are currently in trust, and the tribe is seeking to add more.
Trust status emerged 80 years ago with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), as a way for tribes to preserve reservation lands. The IRA says “any tribe now under federal jurisdiction” has the right to put land into trust.
As tribes and governments have wrestled over land, the definition of the word “now” has become crucial.
Opponents of the Shakopee tribe’s ongoing mission to acquire land often point to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. In Carcieri, the court interpreted “now” to mean 1934, the year the IRA became law.
The Shakopee tribe wasn’t federally recognized until 1969. But in 2014, the Office of the Interior, which processes trust applications, released a memorandum offering an alternative viewpoint.
The memorandum defined “under federal jurisdiction” in a way that could favor the Shakopee tribe.
“Under federal jurisdiction” doesn’t necessarily mean “federally recognized,” the memorandum said. So a tribe that wasn’t federally recognized in 1934 may still have fallen under federal jurisdiction because it had treaty fishing rights, for example.
The Shakopee tribe negotiated its first treaty in 1805 and exists on reservation lands that the federal government bought in the late 1800s. That time period, not the 1969 date, is what the tribe uses to define its time under federal jurisdiction, said general counsel Willie Hardacker.
“I think it’s really important for everyone to understand that the tribe is not going anywhere,” he said.