(CN) – The 8th Circuit took up the “tangled history” of South Dakota’s Yankton Sioux Reservation and ruled that thousands of acres of trust land are part of the Indian reservation.
The state of South Dakota and officials with Charles Mix County challenged a district court ruling that 37,600 acres of trust land remained part of a reservation established in 1858, and that individual allotments on the “patchwork” reservation qualified as Indian land.
The state also argued that the reservation had been “completely disestablished and that even the agency trust lands lack reservation status.”
A three-judge panel in St. Louis said the court had already ruled, in Gaffey II, that the Yankton Sioux Reservation had not been “disestablished.” It cited this earlier ruling in determining that the contested land belongs to the reservation.
“While the fractured configuration of the Yankton Sioux Reservation may not seem ideal to various parties, it is a historic artifact resulting from shifting federal policy,” Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote. “In short, the 11,000,000-acre domain once assigned to the tribe was successively fragmented and dramatically reduced in size. … Whatever the size of the remaining reservation lands, there is evidence in the record that they have continuing relevance and importance to the Yankton Sioux Tribe as a touchstone linking tribal members with each other and with their common culture, history, and heritage.”
The reservation was established in 1858 with 430,400 acres (for which the tribe gave up approximately 11 million acres), but by 1894 it had been reduced to 262,300 acres. The reservation has been reduced further throughout its “tangled history, along with the inconsistent and sometimes contradictory policies pursued by the national government,” Murphy wrote. This has created a “confusing patchwork of land holdings and jurisdictional claims within the original 1858 boundaries of the reservation,” she added.
There is no evidence that Congress intended to take the land in question from the reservation, Murphy said, finding that “in the absence of any clear congressional intent to divest allotted lands on the Yankton Sioux Reservation of their reservation status, those lands retained such status, and all outstanding allotments continue to be reservation.”
Even land once taken away from the original 1858 reservation regained reservation status under the Indian Reorganization Act, the court ruled. And any “miscellaneous trust lands” qualify as part of a dependent Indian community and are therefore “Indian Country” under federal law.