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Law | Trust
Appeals court decision in Dakota trust case


The Interior Department does not owe a trust responsibility to Dakota descendants who were promised land in the late 1800s, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

The plaintiffs to the Wolfchild case said they are owed money for the federal government's failure to hold land in trust for them. The land is now part of the Shakopee, Prairie Island and Lower Sioux reservations in Minnesota.

A federal judge sided with the plaintiffs but the appeals court today reversed. At issue were three appropriations acts that referred to land to be held in trust for the "loyal" Mdewakanton, or Dakota, people.

"While it is true that a statute need not contain the word 'trust' in order to create a trust relationship, the failure to use that term gives rise to doubt that a trust relationship was intended," the court wrote.

But even if the acts created a trust, Congress terminated it with a law in 1980 that affirmed the land in question is part of the Shakopee, Prairie Island and Lower Sioux reservations, the court added.

Court Decision:
Wolfchild v US (March 10, 2009)

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