Tahlequah Daily Press

July 23, 2013

Cherokees sue to keep UKB land out of trust

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation on Tuesday filed a petition in federal court in Muskogee seeking an injunction and temporary restraining  order to prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from placing the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma’s casino land into trust.

Last summer, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the UKB signed an agreement requiring the tribe pay $2 million in damages for operating the facility without a compact, and securing federal trust status for the property or cease gaming operations by July 31, 2012.

At the 11th-hour on deadline day in 2012, the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs granted the UKB the application to place the property into trust. The UKB reached an agreement with Pruitt to either cease gaming or have the land taken into trust by July 31 of this year, an application which remains pending.

According to information released by the Cherokee Nation, the BIA recently notified the Cherokee Nation it would proceed with the UKB’s trust application, expediting the matter to meet the looming deadline.

“The attempt by the BIA to place land into trust for another tribe or band of indians in our jurisdiction is contrary to law, and we intend to prove that in court,” said CN Attorney General Todd Hembree in a press release. “The Cherokee Nation will do everything in its power to preserve the integrity of our sovereignty.”

The casino at 2450 S. Muskogee Ave. has been in operation since 1986. Since its inception, a dispute has existed between the UKB and the Cherokee Nation as to whether the land can be considered for a trust designation.

In earlier court rulings, the Cherokee Nation had been recognized as the primary tribe within the boundaries of the “former Cherokee reservation,” requiring the UKB to gain CN consent before placing land into trust.

In documents released last summer, the BIA indicated it had determined the former reservation of the Cherokee Nation is also the former reservation of the UKB, negating the regulatory requirement for consent of the Cherokee Nation in UKB trust issues.