Located in northern Minnesota, the White Earth Reservation is set aside for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians. At one time, it comprised approximately six million acres, but has been reduced to about 50,000 acres. In 1978 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the hundreds of thousands of acres which had been carved out of the White Earth reservation were improperly taken and that the legal title still 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 did not rightfully belong to them. The problem arose because the Bureau of lndian Affairs had never carried out its trust responsibilities to probate Indian wills and to approve of sales of land from the White Earth reservation.
Congress is currently concerned with protecting the state and those settlers who inhabit Native American land. Legislation was passed requiring all heirs with claims to White Earth reservation lands to filemakes it almost impossible for the 24,000 heirs of the White Earth Band to recover their land or receive payment for the illegal taking.
In April 1986, the CCR filed a federal class action in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the White Earth heirs. Discovery has begun and we expect the case to be tried this year.
Michael Ratner, David Cole, with CCR cooperating attorney Mahlon F. Perkins, Jr.; Steven Schwartz, Melissa Salten, and Bruce Rich, Weil Gotshal & Manges