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Bipartisan bill proposed to replace Prairie Island Indian Community land

Updated: October 29, 2019 10:25 PM

For more than 80 years, Prairie Island Indian Community has been a federally recognized reservation.

Tribal Council President Shelley Buck told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS their land has been shrinking for almost as long. 

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In the 1930’s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a lock and dam on the Mississippi River, less than two miles downstream. 

It caused “permanent inundation of land on the Prairie Island Reservation, as well as ongoing overbank flooding of Reservation land,” according to H.R. 4752. The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives on Oct. 18.

The bill goes on to say the flooding "occurred without express Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution and the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act."

“There’s not supposed to be water out there like that,” said Buck, gesturing out the window. “That all used to be land where my grandmother and her parents could walk across. There were burial mounds, that's where they gathered medicines, that's underwater today.”

She said the flooding has only gotten worse over the years.

In the 1970s, a nuclear power plant was built about 600 yards away from the community. Spent nuclear fuel is stored there, which she told us has been a constant source of worry for them.

“It’s scary,” said Buck. “It's scary to know that right now we're pretty much at capacity on the land that we have usable.”

The tribe purchased 1,200 acres of ancestral land near Pine Island in Dec. 2018, she said.


More from KSTP:

Tribal leaders address Minnesota lawmakers during 'Sovereignty Day'


“The federal government is not living up to their trust responsibility,” Buck said. “They were supposed to have that [radioactive] waste out of here by 1998. Here we sit in 2019, almost 2020, and it's still here.”

“It’s only to grow more and more and more, so we decided instead of waiting for the federal government to do something, we’re going to start the ball and take care of it ourselves.”

H.R. 4752, The Prairie Island Indian Community Land Claim Settlement Act, would put that land into trust, adding it to the reservation.

“The same legal status as the land that was stolen,” Buck said.

The bill has bipartisan support, co-authored by Rep. Angie Craig and Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

“This is two sovereign nations, the United States and the Prairie Island Indian Community, coming together to resolve a dispute,” Jessie Seim, general counsel for the Prairie Island Indian Community, said. “There was a wrong, there was a series of wrongs, and this is us working together, two sovereigns, to right those wrongs.” 

Much of the new land will be used for housing. According to Buck, about 120 tribe members are on a waiting list for housing for their families. 

After introducing the bill, Craig said in a statement:

“I'm pleased to introduce bipartisan legislation that would allow the Prairie Island Indian Community to put additional land into trust as a settlement for land previously taken from them by the United States government. This community was forced onto their current land in 1889, and in the years since have had portions of that land taken away by the government without their consent to build a nuclear power plant and a lock and dam system along the Mississippi River. The combination of these projects has created unique risks for the community. Tribal members live approximately 600 yards from a nuclear power plant and much of the tribal lands have been deemed unusable due to flooding from the lock and dam system. Entry points onto and off the island are extremely limited. It's time that the U.S. government settles these claims and makes this right to ensure that the Prairie Island Indian Community can grow for generations to come.”

Rep. Hagedorn declined KSTP's request for comment, as did Rep. Betty McCollum, who signed onto the bill.

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Callan Gray

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