The White Earth Reservation, located in Northern Minnesota. originally comprised six million acres set aside “in perpetuity” for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians under an 1867 treaty. The Clapp Amendment of 1906, pushed through Congress by Minnesota lumber companies hungry for land, reduced the original reservation to about 50,000 acres and deprived members of the band of most of the allotments which were to be held for them in sacred trust by the federal government.
In 1978 the Minnesota Supreme Court rnled 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 that legal title belonged toapproximately 24,000 White Earth heirs.
The decision caused consternation among individuals whose ownership derived from the illegal transfers and was now dubious. Under intense pressure from Minnesota, Congress enacted the White Earth Land Settlement Act of 1986-not a true settlement, because it was forced on the White Earth Indians over their objections. The Act extinguished all White Earth claims unless filed within a time period that made it impossible for most White Earth Indians to bring suit; and it compensated the claims at a rate far below the market value of the land.
In March 1987 CCR filed a federal class action in Washing ton, D.C., on behalf of the White Earth heirs. ‘ Ille su it sought both a declaration that the While 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 !he 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 fndians, 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 volunteer attorney Mahlon F Perkins, Jr. Alan Weinschel. Bruce Rich, Steven Schwartz. and Melissa Salten of Weil, Gotshal & Manges