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Sac & Fox Nation of Mo. v. Norton

Citation: 31 ELR 20434
No. No. 00-3063, 240 F.3d 1250/(10th Cir., 02/27/2001)

The court holds that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) had a nondiscretionary duty to take into trust land purchased by the Wyandotte Tribe in Kansas, and, therefore, no National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and no National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) analysis was necessary before acquiring the land, but the land could not be used for gaming operations under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). In 1855, after ceding much of their land to the United States, the Wyandotte Tribe entered another treaty in which it agreed to dissolve the tribe and cede the rest of the land to the United States, with the exception that a burial ground located on tribal land in Kansas would be permanently reserved for that purpose. The tribe was ultimately reinstated, and in 1984, Congress passed a law providing for the appropriations and distribution of money in satisfaction of judgments awarded to the tribe, specifically the allocation of $ 100,000 to be used by the DOI for the purpose of acquiring real property to be held in trust for the tribe. In 1996, the tribe sought to acquire a piece of property adjacent to the burial ground with the intent of operating gaming activities on the property, and several tribes and the governor of Kansas brought this suit against the DOI to prevent it from taking the land into trust for the tribe.

The court first holds that the district court erred in dismissing the suit on the grounds that the tribe was a necessary and indispensable party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. In the absence of the tribe, complete relief could be granted. Moreover, the potential prejudice to the economic interest of the tribe is offset by the presence of the Secretary of the Interior, whose interest in defending the case is virtually identical to that of the tribe. The court then holds that Pub. L. No. 98-602 imposed a nondiscretionary duty on the Secretary of the Interior to take the land purchased by the tribe into trust for the tribe. The law clearly states that the Secretary has no discretion in deciding whether or not to take into trusta parcel of land purchased by the tribe. The court next holds that because the Secretary exercised no discretion in acquiring the tract, he reasonably concluded that NEPA or the NHPA's analysis would have been pointless since neither analysis could have had any impact on the acquisition. The court also holds that the DOI erred in concluding that only funds set aside under the 1984 law were used to purchase the property. The documents in the record suggest that nearly one-half of the funds used to acquire the property were purchased with funds other than those set aside by the 1984 law. The court then holds that the DOI incorrectly determined that the burial ground was a reservation for the purposes of the IGRA. The IGRA does not contain a definition of "reservation," but use of the word in the statute suggests that Congress intended for each tribe to have only one reservation for gaming purposes. Further, the IGRA specifically distinguished between the reservation of a tribe and lands held in trust by the federal government. Therefore, the tribe cannot use the newly acquired property for gaming purposes.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (39 pp., ELR Order No. L-329).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
John R. Shordike
Alexander & Karshmer
2150 Shattuck Ave., Ste. 725, Berkeley CA 94704
(510) 841-5056

Counsel for Defendants
Jeffrey C. Dobbins
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000