Prairie Island tribal members sue U.S. Department of Interior
ST. PAUL — Members of the Prairie Island Indian Community filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior Wednesday following the federal government's recent refusal to acknowledge the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota.
Prairie Island tribal members Margo Bellanger, Tina Jefferson and Michael J. Childs Jr. filed the Administrative Procedures Act suit individually and on behalf of the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota seeking three remedies:
• Federal acknowledgement of the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota as a tribe separate and apart from Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Prairie Island Indian Community and Lower Sioux Indian Community.
• Restoration of possession of the 12 square miles of public lands in Minnesota set apart by the secretary of the interior in 1865 for the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota.
• Federal land assignment system for the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota at Prairie Island and elsewhere, which the department suspended in 1980.
MSIM includes more than 7,000 genealogically identified lineal descendants, most of whom are not members of the three tribes the suit identifies, the lawsuit states. The Department of Interior acknowledged MSIM as a tribe in 1934 under the Indian Reorganization Act. The three communities, organized in 1936 and 1969, are not legal successors to MSIM, but organized based on Indians residing on a reservation.
The suit aims to prevent the federal government from "continuing arbitrary decisions without informing the MSIM that have the consequence of adversely affecting the rights or potential rights of the MSIM."
According to the suit, the federal government has acknowledged the local tribe since the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, but failed to consult MSIM on the termination of the federal land assignments system, which granted MSIM members at Prairie Island Indian Community 12 square miles of land under the February 1863 Act.
"The Department of the Interior has, under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, continuously acknowledged that the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota are a tribe," said Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing Bellanger, Jefferson and Childs. "In 1865, the secretary of the interior set apart 'forever' 12 square miles of public lands for MSIM. It is time that the Department of the Interior implements Section 9 of the February 1863 Act and delivers possession of the 12 square miles or its legal equivalent."
Kaardal distinguished federally acknowledged tribal communities from federally recognized communities, which are treated as sovereign tribes. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, Prairie Island Indian and Lower Sioux Indian Communities have each received federal recognition.
The remedies in the suit, Kaardal said, offer a "very exciting" prospect to members of MSIM, who could seek federal recognition once they obtained the land. With federal recognition, he said, the tribe may have claims to the "Half-Breed Tract" in Wabasha County, which was set aside for American Indians with mixed ancestry.