SLOAN, Iowa — The Winnebago Tribe is hoping to reclaim land in Iowa that was once part of its reservation in northeast Nebraska, but local hunters are concerned they might lose access.
The Sioux City Journal reports the 1,643 acres (6648990.98 sq. meters) of land is owned by the federal government and attracts hundreds of hunters each year. Tribal officials say they would keep the land as hunting ground and habitat for wildlife.
“We’re going to use it for the same purposes that it’s been used for, and that’s wildlife management,” tribal councilman Isaac Smith said. “These hunters that are worried about it, they don’t have anything to worry about.”
But Bill Smith, president of the Missouri Valley Waterfowlers Association, which supports restoration and management of waterfowl resources, said he’s concerned about future access.
“What one individual intends or says they’re not going to do, unless it’s in writing, I don’t buy into it at all,” Bill Smith said.
The land, which is near the tribe’s WinnaVegas Casino, was part of the Winnebago reservation when it was created in 1865. But the eastern border of the reservation was the Missouri River, which changed course over the years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers condemned part of the tribe’s land on both sides of the river in the 1970s for a planned project. The tribe fought that in court and succeeded in Nebraska, but lost the parcel in Iowa.
The tribe’s general counsel, Danielle Smith, said the tribe lost the right to continue appealing the Iowa land court, so the only remedy available is congressional action.
U.S. Rep. Steve King introduced a bill earlier this month to transfer the land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where it would be held in trust for the tribe.
King said his bill would return land that was taken improperly from the tribe.
“The Corps of Engineers essentially concedes that the process they used doesn’t hold up in court,” King said. “I think the true, right and just thing to do is honor the treaty.”
Steve Kopecky with the Corps said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Woodbury County Board Chairman Matthew Ung said the county hasn’t taken a position on the issue because it is still learning about it. The issue will be discussed Tuesday at the board’s regular meeting.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com