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Yankton Sioux Tribe vs. United States

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Collection Summary

Title Yankton Sioux Tribe vs. United States
Span Dates 1828-1987
Bulk Dates (bulk dates, 1828-1987)
Quantity 3.5 linear ft.
Printed Material
Location     Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, University of South Dakota.

Land rights cases between the United States Government and the Sioux are plentiful.  The materials in this collection represent a case that has its roots in a 1965 decision, Sioux Tribe of Indians v. United States.  In this decision, the Indian Claims Commission ruled that the “Sioux or Dahcotah Nation” held title to approximately 60 million acres of land west of the Missouri River.  The Commission did not, at that time, declare which bands of the Sioux were entitled to this land.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the Commission decided that the “Sioux of Dahcotah” Nation, as it was defined in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, included only the Teton Sioux (Docket No. 74) and the Yankton Sioux (Docket No 332-C-) but did not include the Yanktonais.  In addition, they declared that, using the population ratio of the time, the Yankton Sioux had a right to 17 percent of the lands, and the Teton Sioux 83 percent. 

In a subsequent 1974 ruling, the Court of Claims remanded the case for hearing.  In this decision, the Court held that, if sufficient evidence were to be brought about the populations actually using the lands, a reconsideration of the ownership percentages should be made.  The Yankton Sioux called in Nicklason Research Associates to research the land use of the Fort Laramie lands during the time period before and up to 1851.  Researchers reviewed records and photocopied materials from the National Archives, the Library of Congress and other collections in the Midwest.  In October, 1975, Dr. Fred Nicklason, then Assistant Professor of History at the University of Maryland and Dr. John L. Champe, who was Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus at University of Nebraska, presented a brief to the Indian Claims Commission for Docket No. 332-C, the Yankton Sioux Tribe v. United States of America.  This brief was entitled The Relative Use and Occupancy of the 1851 Sioux-Fort Laramie Lands by the Yankton and Teton Sioux Tribes.

The question at hand was the “relative ownership interests of the Yankton and Teton Sioux tribes in the Sioux-Fort Laramie lands as of 1851, when their title to such lands was recognized by the Fort Laramie Treaty, 11 Stat. 749” (The Relative Use and Occupancy of the 1851 Sioux-Fort Laramie Lands by the Yankton and Teton Sioux Tribes ,Preface, iv, Box 1).  In January of 1976, the Court made its ruling in favor of upholding the original 1970 apportionment.  In the report made to the court, Nicklason and Champe came to the conclusion that the evidence in the case was not sufficient to define the land use by the tribes, therefore leaving no better basis for apportioning the land than the population ratio.  Though evidence gathered indicated that both the Yankton and the Teton Sioux did hunt in the Fort Laramie lands, both tribes ventured in and out of the land with regularity.  There was no concrete evidence to indicate how long the tribes used the lands.  The population counts were considered more accurate and reliable and were therefore used to make the determination, and the court upheld the original land division. 

The validity of the findings was called into question in a 1977 appeal, and a decision was made in August of 1977 that the apportionment originally set in 1970 should stand.  A second motion for rehearing was granted and in a decision made in December, 1977, the Commission found several factual errors in the evidence, most in favor of the Teton Sioux.  They also upheld the finding of an error of law, determining that they had misunderstood the court’s mandate as requiring that the exact number of Tetons and Yanktons using Fort Laramie lands be determined.  Because exact numbers could not be determined, they upheld the 1970 decision.  After the motion for rehearing, the Commission reinterpreted the court’s mandate and determined that the knowledge of a percentage of the total population using the land would be sufficient.  With the reinterpretation, the Commission concluded that there was sufficient evidence to determine the approximate percentage of each Sioux tribe using the Fort Laramie lands, and ultimately decided in favor of the Teton Sioux.  The 1970 apportionment was no longer considered appropriate.  The new decision held that the Yankton Sioux, in fact, “held an undivided 7% interest, and the Teton Sioux and undivided 93% interest, in the Sioux-Fort Laramie lands.” (Before the Indian Claims Commission, The Sioux Nation, et. Al, The Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians, v. The United States of America, December 27, 1977, Box 4).

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