Friday, February 19, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Renews Interest in Wolfchild v. United States

In an unexpected development, on January 13, 2010, the Court requested a response from the United States in Wolfchild (and Zephier) v. United States, a case which involves two groups of individuals who claim to be the descendants of the ―loyal‖ Mdewakanton Sioux.

The United States had waived its right of response—usually an indicator to the Court that the case is not worthy of review. Evidently, something in the case has caught the interest of the Court. The Wolfchild petitioners are seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which reversed the trial court‘s finding of breach of trust by the United States.

The Federal Circuit held that (1) the 1888, 1889 and 1890 Appropriation Acts enacted for the benefit of the loyal Mdewakanton Sioux and their lineal descendants which included lands, improvements to lands and monies as the corpus did not create a trust; and (2) even if the referenced Appropriations Acts did create a trust, the 1980 Act terminated that trust by transferring beneficial ownership to the three Mdewakanton Indian communities (Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community and Prairie Island Indian Community).

This case could become a vehicle for the Court to further erode the nature of the United States‘ trust responsibility, and to limit the scope of the fiduciary duties the United States owes to the Indian people.
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