MAY 2, 2022:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota is challenging the federal government’s awarding of lucrative mineral rights under a Missouri River reservoir to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, otherwise known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. The state attorney general’s office said Friday (April 29, 2022) that it notified the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that it plans to intervene in the tribes’ lawsuit against the federal government. The Interior Department ruled in February that the tribes own the rights, in what has been a long-running dispute. At stake is an estimated $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments certain to come from oil drilling. The government dammed the river in the 1950s, flooding more than a tenth of the tribes’ reservation and creating the reservoir.


APRIL 30, 2022:

The State of North Dakota moved to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation asserting ownership of the historical riverbed of the Missouri River within the boundaries of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The State claims, and the U.S. Department of the Interior Solicitor in May 2020 agreed, that the State owns title to the riverbed within the Reservation. The Tribes sued the Department of the Interior in July 2020 seeking to overturn the Solicitor’s opinion, prevent it from being implemented, and establish their title to the riverbed and to funds generated from leasing and production of minerals located therein. In February 2022, the Biden administration’s Interior Solicitor reversed the 2020 opinion, concluding the riverbed belongs to the United States in trust for the Tribes.

The State has never relinquished its claim to the historical riverbed, which it acquired at statehood in 1889 under the equal footing doctrine, which provides that a state entering the Union retains title to the beds of navigable rivers and lakes within the state, unless Congress has expressly designated otherwise. The claim applies only to the historical riverbed of the Missouri River, not the entirety of the bed of Lake Sakakawea.

The motion, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, preserves the State’s position while also allowing discussions to continue with the Tribes and the United States to reach an amicable resolution.

While multiple Interior opinions have been issued over the years, the matter of title has never been resolved in a court of law as it must be. The State’s motion to intervene additionally seeks to ensure that any revenues generated from riverbed mineral development will continue to be held in abeyance until the legal dispute is resolved.

APRIL 4, 2022:

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota tribal nation has officially assumed ownership of mineral rights under the Missouri River, snatching the title back from the state in a dispute that has gone on for more than two centuries. The Bureau of Indian Affairs filed notice in federal court on Monday that it recorded title to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation for 123 tracts of land. That follows a February 2022 opinion by the interior solicitor in the Biden administration that said the mineral rights under the original Missouri River riverbed belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes. That reversed a May 2020 Trump administration opinion concluding that the state is legal owner of submerged lands beneath the river where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation.

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