116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A dispute over Omaha tribal lands in western Iowa ended up in the same federal court in Cedar Rapids as a high-profile trial following the American Indian Movement takeover of Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973.
Both trials were presided over by U.S. District Judge Edward J. McManus.
1975 AIM trial
About 300 Oglala and Lakota tribe members and AIM activists began a protest Feb. 27, 1973, at Wounded Knee, S.D., that developed into a 71-day siege by the FBI before AIM leaders agreed to end it.
Two of the AIM leaders — Russell Means and Dennis Banks — were charged with federal crimes after the siege. Their trial in Minnesota lasted two months before federal Judge Fred Nicol released Means and Banks, citing gross misconduct by prosecutors.
The judge withdrew from the remainder of the cases, and they were transferred to Judge McManus in Cedar Rapids.
Trial was set for June 2, 1975, for three defendants — Leonard Crow Dog, Stanley Richard Holder and Carter Camp — who faced federal charges related to the siege involving weapons and the beating of four postal inspectors.
The city prepared for the arrival of hundreds of militant Native Americans for the trial, but that didn’t happen. Instead, “media from around the country far outnumbered the feared outsiders from South Dakota,” The Gazette reported.
The family and friends of the three defendants set up camp on the west edge of Seminole Valley Park in five, 20-man Army tents loaned by the Iowa National Guard. The camp was arranged in accordance with native tradition, and the natives conducted daily sunrise ceremonies.
Tribal members used the Peoples Church at Sixth Street and Third Avenue SE their headquarters and for news conferences.
The trial, expected to last up to two months or longer, was over in four days.
The jury returned guilty verdicts June 5 after two hours of deliberation. The defendants immediately claimed the trial was fixed because they faced an all-white jury and a “hurry-up” judge. Crow Dog was given two suspended sentences and placed on probation, while Holder and Camp didn’t show up for sentencing and became fugitives. Camp and Holder were later found and sent to prison.
1975 land case
In a separate case involving Native Americans and a land dispute, McManus on June 5, 1975, issued a preliminary injunction giving the Omaha tribe control of more than 3,000 acres of farmland in western Iowa.
The course of the Missouri River, the official boundary between Nebraska and Iowa, had changed. Control of the land that became part of Iowa had been disputed since the 1940s.
U.S. Attorney Evan Hultman said McManus’ ruling negated claims by a Wounded Knee lawyer that the federal government didn’t uphold Indian interests. The ruling, he said, showed “the government does do things in the Indians’ interests.”
1976 murder trial
The unrest at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota continued, with two FBI agents shot and killed June 26, 1975, when they drove onto the reservation following a suspect wanted for questioning.
Three AIM members — Darelle Butler, Robert Robideau and Leonard Peltier, who fled to Canada — were indicted on murder charges.
McManus was supposed to preside over another land dispute case in Cedar Rapids in June 1976 but instead heard the murder trial after South Dakota federal Judge Andrew Bogue asked for a trade, thinking the defendants couldn’t get a fair trial in his jurisdiction.
The trial of Butler and Robideau lasted a month and drew more notoriety after actor Marlon Brando and comedian Dick Gregory showed up to lend support to the defendants. The jury deliberated a week before finding the two men not guilty.
In 1977, Peltier was tried in North Dakota and found guilty in the shootings of the FBI agents. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Land case, 1987
But the Omaha tribal lawsuit over ownership of its lands didn’t go away.
In January 1987, McManus partially lifted the 1975 injunction after a South Dakota judge ruled that 200 acres would go to Iowa landowners, 500 to the state of Iowa and 1,935 acres to the tribe.
In protest, Omaha tribal members arrived by chartered bus in Cedar Rapids March 10 and gathered in a small park at First Avenue and First Street East. After a short ceremony in below-freezing temperatures, the group moved to the federal building, led by tribal Chairman Doran Morris Sr.
More than 100 people gathered in McManus’ courtroom for the hearing determining the ownership of the area claimed by both the state of Iowa and the Omaha tribe headquartered in Macy, Neb.
In his testimony, Morris told the court that only 17,000 acres remained of the 300,000 acres given to the tribe by an 1854 treaty.
On April 1, McManus ordered the Omaha tribe to allow the survey of the Blackbird Bend area along the Missouri River in west-central Iowa. The tribe instead blocked the surveyors, cutting down trees and digging ditches to stop state access to the land.
When Morris and the 10 members of the tribal council who were with him said they would continue to block the survey, McManus ordered them to jail with a daily fine of $10,000 until they complied with his order. That was in the afternoon of May 1.
By that evening, the tribal leaders gave in. They were released by midnight and returned to Macy.
After a dozen years of Indian vs. farmer claims to the western Iowa land, Congress began looking at legislation to solve the problem. In 1992, the Omaha tribe opened a casino on its land in Monona County, Iowa.