Littlewolf v. Hodel – Native American Rights – CCR Docket 1989-1990

The White Earth Reservation, located in northern Minnesota, was set aside “in perpe­tuity” in 1867 for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians. It  then comprised ap­proximately six million acres, but has been reduced to about 50,000 acres. In the early years of this century, most of the reservation land was transferred lo the individual members of the band in the form of allotments to be held in sacred trust for them by 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 Earth 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 to 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 the White Earth Indians over their objections. The 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 at a rate far below the market value of the land.

In March 1987 the CCR filed a federal class action in Washin gton, 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 com elling the Bureau of Indian Af­fairs to carry out its neglected trust dut ies lo the White Earth Band. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment was rejected in March 1988 by the district  court, which upheld the validity of the Act. This decision erroneously denies the just compensation to which the White Earth Indians are entitled.

Io June of 1989 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia  upheld the validity of the White Earth Land Settlement Act, thereby depriving the Chippewa Indians of their right to regain thousands of acres of land in northern Minnesota. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had been adequately compensated for the deprivation of their rights, and in effect approved compensation of as little as 10 cents on the dollar. The Indians, moveover, were not seeking mone­tary compensation, but rather the recovery of their lands. CCR lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to review the decision.

Michael Ratner, David Cole, with CCR cooperating ottorney Mahlon F. Perhins, Jr.; Alan Weinschel, Bruce Rich, Steven Schwartz, and Melissa Salten, Weil, Gotshal & Manges