ST. PAUL-A group of American Indians whose ancestors rescued whites during an 1862 Indian war want to collect on a federal government promise of a 12-square-mile tract in west-central Minnesota.

The six people, seeking the land for about 20,000 Mdewakanton Sioux Indians, on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. They have fought the federal government and people who settled the land since 2003, with the high court rejecting earlier requests to consider a related case.

"We are here today to ask the Supreme Court hear our case, please," said Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, the best-known person who brought the case.

The 20,000 Sioux people who would get land are scattered, living in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Some are on Lakota reservations and could live on the Minnesota land if the Supreme Court rules their way.

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Wolfchild said that the federal government hanged his grandfather 154 years ago at Fort Snelling, now part of the Twin Cities. People like his grandfather defended and rescued white Minnesotans in danger during the Indian-U.S. war of the time.

At one time, his people occupied millions of acres of land, Wolfchild said. The 12 square miles he and others seek is 7,680 acres.

Wolfchild said he sees the lawsuit as a continuation of his ancestors' freedom fight.

The Indians' attorney, Erick Kaardal of Minneapolis, said he is optimistic that he has found the legal combination that will allow the country's top court to finally take up the lawsuit.

It is against dozens of landowners, including Redwood, Renville and Sibley counties, as well as the Lower Sioux Indian Community. They could be removed from the land if the Supreme Court sides with Wolfchild.

"I told them it is going to be difficult because you have so many enemies," Kaardal said about the conversation he had with his clients.

They cannot sue the federal government over the issue, only those now on the land, Kaardal said. But his most heated rhetoric was saved for the federal Interior Department, which he said has fought the issue.

Congress granted the land to Indians loyal to white Minnesotans, Kaardal said, a promise that never has been fulfilled. "This is a wound on Minnesota."

Earlier in the case, Glen Jacobsen, Renville County assistant attorney, said an estimated 100 people in the three counties are owners of private land cited in the lawsuit. The defendants also include the Lower Sioux Community, the owner of Jackpot Junction Casino.

As a defendant, the Lower Sioux Community denounced the lawsuit and issued a statement shortly after its filing: "(The plaintiffs) are not a tribe, nor do they represent the interests or values of the Lower Sioux Community.''

Jacobsen said the defendants cite a legal principle that essentially states that a plaintiff loses his right to something if he waits too long to claim it. "In this case, 150 years is too long.''

The friendly Sioux were living in the area of present-day Faribault in 1865. Kaardal said Col. Henry Sibley was to escort them to the land, but determined that "white hostilities" toward American Indians in Minnesota at the time made it unsafe.

 

Reporter Tom Cherveny contributed to this story.