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Yankton Sioux Tribe v. Gaffey

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20027
Nos. Nos. 98-3893 et al, 188 F.3d 1010/(8th Cir., 08/31/1999)

The court holds that the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota does not have tribal jurisdiction over reservation lands that fell out of U.S. government trust and eventually passed to non-Native Americans. An 1894 Act of Congress ceded certain reservation lands to the United States in trust for the tribe, but other reservation land passed to individual tribe members who let the land fall out of trust before selling it to non-Native Americans. The tribe claims that despite the 1894 Act, the reservation's original exterior boundaries remain intact and that it holds jurisdiction over all ceded and nonceded lands within the original reservation boundaries.

The court first holds that the original exterior boundaries of the Yankton Sioux Reservation do not serve to separate Native American lands from areas under primary state jurisdiction. Due to the diminishment of tribal lands, the original 1858 boundaries as described in the 1894 treaty between the United States and the Yankton Sioux Tribe, do not still exist. The court next holds that the 1894 Act in which the Yankton Sioux Tribe ceded land to the United States did not clearly disestablish the Yankton Sioux Reservation, but diminished the land, not only by the ceded land, but also by the loss of lands originally allotted to tribal members that have passed out of their hands. The intent of the Act was to cede land to the United States and open it to white settlers while reserving some of the land for continued tribal interests. Some of the lands for tribal interests were to be held by the U.S. government in trust for members of the tribe. Once the lands passed out of the trust or out of Indian hands, they lost their reservation status, thereby further diminishing the Yankton Sioux Reservation. The court refrains from stating the amount of land remaining in the reservation. Due to the lack of clarity in the briefs in the case and in judicial opinions regarding the meaning of "trust land," the court holds only that the land reserved to the federal government in the 1894 Act, and then returned to the tribe, continues to be within the reservation. The court also vacates permanent injunctions entered by the district court and remands the case.

[Decisions related to this litigation are published at 26 ELR 20505, 27 ELR 20374 and 20802, and 28 ELR 20297.]

Counsel for Appellee
James G. Abourezk
Abourezk Law Offices
P.O. Box 1164, Sioux Falls SD 57101
(605) 334-8402

Counsel for Appellants
Mark W. Barnett
Attorney General's Office
500 E. Capitol St., Pierre SD 57501
(605) 773-3215

Before Arnold and Magill, JJ.