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Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux win right to put land in trust 6-14-07

SHAKOPEE, Minn. (AP) - The Bureau of Indian Affairs has reversed itself and said the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community can transfer 752 acres it owns into a tax-exempt trust, a decision that could cost Scott County and other local governments millions of dollars in property taxes.

The tribe, which owns the popular Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, has been seeking unfettered use of its land for years. It's now awaiting Scott County's decision on whether to appeal. The county has a month to file.

The BIA's Midwest office had approved putting the land in trust, but the agency's central office withdrew that decision last year. The BIA last week decided that the local office was right after all.

A tribe need not be poor, the BIA wrote last week, to gain full control of land that the agency says will let the tribe add housing and, in turn, support “the continuation of Dakota language, ceremonies, spiritual beliefs, traditions and tribal values.”

“It is a pretty important decision,” Scott County Administrator David Unmacht said Wednesday. He said he hadn't decided what to recommend to the county board.

The tribe plans to use the land near its small reservation for homes for its members, a new cultural center and powwow grounds, among other projects.

When the county argued its case to the BIA two years ago, the land in question had generated about $65,000 a year in property taxes. But the county said local governments stood to lose an estimated $2.9 million a year in revenues if the tribe developed the land as proposed and if the land became tax-exempt.

Tribal attorney William Hardacker said he had to consult with tribal leaders before commenting in detail.

“Obviously,” Hardacker said, “we're happy.”
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