Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today's News: S-M Rez Shrinks Per Court Ruling

I'm devoting this post to a newspaper article that has been passed around on the web today by interested parties. Although it could be argued that the headline reflects a bias in favor of the Stockbridge-Munsee (and/or a bias against the state of Wisconsin), the article (as a whole) is well-written and objective.

Court ruling shrinks Stockbridge- Munsee reservation
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press

MADISON, [WI] — A Tuesday court ruling shrinking a Wisconsin Indian tribe's reservation means gambling cannot resume at a golf course and some tribal members may have to pay back taxes.
Congress has eliminated a 46,000-acre reservation given to the Stockbridge- Munsee tribe in 1856, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The decision means the reservation consists of parcels about one-third that size that Congress later set aside for the tribe.
The decision came in a decade-long legal dispute between the state of Wisconsin and the tribe that started when the tribe purchased Pine Hills Golf Course and Supper Club in Shawano County in the 1990s.
The golf course is on the original reservation, and the tribe, under its gambling compact with the state, started operating about 170 slot machines there. The state filed suit in 1998, saying the slots were illegal because the land was no longer within the reservation' s boundaries.
In 1999, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Gorence granted an injunction that shut down the slot machines while the courts considered whether they were located inside the reservation. In 2004, she agreed with the state that the reservation no longer existed as it did in 1856.
The reservation was downsized by an 1871 law that allowed timber companies to purchase part of the land and eliminated by a 1906 act that allotted remaining parcels to tribal members, Gorence ruled.
The tribe appealed, but the case was put on hold while the parties tried to reach a settlement. After negotiations failed, the case resumed and a three-member panel of the appeals court upheld Gorence's decision Tuesday.
Neither law contained language specifically downsizing or eliminating the reservation, but a review of the record shows that was Congress' intent, Judge Terence Evans wrote for the panel. Government agencies mostly treated the reservation as abolished after the second law passed, he wrote.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the ruling and said the court "has hopefully put an end to this long-standing legal dispute."
Tribal President Bob Chicks said he was disappointed with the decision and reviewing legal options. The tribe could ask the full 7th Circuit to reconsider the decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The tribe has always claimed the property inside the 1856 boundaries, which include the townships of Bartelme and Red Springs, Chicks said. About half of the 1,500 tribal members live inside that area.
If it stands, the decision could have implications for tribal members who live in the disputed boundaries and have not been paying taxes. In general, Indians who live and work on reservations do not pay state income taxes.
In 2000, the tribe agreed to collect taxes that could be due if its appeal failed. That escrow account could soon be turned over to the state. The program was voluntary, however, and some may not have participated.
Once the case is resolved, the Department of Revenue could seek back taxes and penalties against tribal members who still owe taxes.
The ruling is one more setback for the Stockbridge- Munsee, whose history has been marked by displacement and conflict. The tribe was pushed from the east coast to near Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin in the 1800s and then pressured to give up that reservation in exchange for its current location in 1856.
The appeals court noted that land "turned out to be heavily forested and difficult to farm — not quite the arable land that had been promised in the treaty." And within 15 years, Congress allowed timber companies to buy most of it.
Along with the golf course, the tribe owns and operates the Mohican North Star Casino and Bingo and the Stockbridge- Munsee Health and Wellness Center
Source: Shawano Leader

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