Located in northern Minnesota, the White Earth Reservation was set aside “in perpetuity” the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians 1867. It then comprised approximately six million acres, but has been reduced to about 50,C acres. In the early years of this century, most of the reservation land was transferred to the individual members of the band in the of form allotments to be held in sacred trust for them the federal government, but following the passage in 1906 of the infamous Clapp Amendment, pushed through Congress by Minnesota lumber companies hungry for land, most of the allotments were lost as a result of fraudulent transactions, tax forfeitures, and other wrongful transfers. In 1978 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the Clapp Act unconstitutional and declared that hundreds of thousands of acres which had been carved out of the White Ear reservation were improperly taken and legal title belonged to White Earth heirs. The number of these heirs is estimated at 24,000.
The decision meant that the state and many individuals had settled on or utilized land which they did not have rightful title. As a result of intense pressure from Minnesota Congress enacted the White Earth Land Settlement Act of 1986. This was not a true settlement, however, because it was forced on White Earth Indians over their objections. ‘ Act barred all White Earth claims unless filed within a time period that made it impossible for most White Earth Indians to bring suit and, in exchange for their extinguished claims, granted compensation far below the market value of the land.
In March 1987 CCR filed a federal class action in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the White Earth heirs. The suit sought both a declaration that the White Earth Settlement Act was unconstitutional and an order compelling the Bureau of Indian Affairs to carry out its neglected trust duties to the White Earth Band. The district court rejected plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in March 1988 and upheld the validity of the act. In June 1989 the court of appeals affirmed, ruling that plaintiffs had been adequately compensated for the deprivation of thousands of acres of their land, and in effect approving compensation of as little as 10 cents on the dollar. The Indians, moreover, were not seeking monetary compensation, but the recovery of their lands. The Supreme Court denied our petition for review in January 1990, delivering a final blow to the White Earth Indians, who over the course of the last 90 years have been rendered landless and poverty- stricken by the treachery and indifference of federal and state governments.
Michael Ratner, David Cole, with CCR participating attorney Mahlon F. Perkins, Jr.,; Alan Weinschel. Bruce Rich, Steven Schwartz and Melissa Salten, Weil, Gotshal & Manges