Suit seeks Minn. land for Dakota descendants

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Descendants of Dakota Indians who were ordered out of Minnesota after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 are suing to reclaim 12 square miles in southern Minnesota.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the great-great-grandchildren of Dakota who helped white settlers during the war.

If the lawsuit succeeds, about 100 farmers in Renville, Sibley and Redwood counties would be among those “ejected” from the area near Morton, the Star Tribune reported. Schools, churches and the Lower Sioux Community, which runs Jackpot Junction casino on its current reservation, also would be kicked off the land.

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 settlers during the conflict 152 years ago.

An 1863 act of Congress, which has never been repealed, set aside 12 miles for Dakota who stayed out of the five-week war and aided settlers.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

The latest legal tactic rekindles a long-simmering inner-Dakota clash between the plaintiffs and three federally recognized tribes: the 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 newspaper reported.

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

Kaardal said Wednesday if his side wins the case, which could take years, Dakota descendants from Nebraska to Canada would be “invited back” to what would be a new reservation. Up to 20,000 people could benefit, he said.

They would all have to show that their family trees connect back to an 1886 census of 264 Dakota deemed “friendly” after the war. More than 600 immigrant settlers were killed in a series of 1862 summer battles.

In addition to dozens of farm families named as defendants, the counties of Redwood, Renville and Sibley also are listed. Sibley County Attorney David Schauer said he was not aware of anyone in his county being served with a lawsuit.

Phone messages left for the county attorneys of Redwood and Renville counties were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Information from: Star Tribune, www.startribune.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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