Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 13, 2013

Cherokee Nation granted injunction in UKB casino case

TAHLEQUAH — tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

Cherokee Nation tribal councilors learned Monday evening the tribe was granted its preliminary temporary injunction in federal court against the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The action, handed down by Northern District Judge Gregory Frizzell, will prevent the BIA from placing the United Keetoowah and of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma’s casino land into trust.

The ruling comes a mere 48 hours before the land was slated for trust status, and could re- sult in at least a temporary closure of the facility come Aug. 30.

“Attorney General Todd Hembree brought action to protect our most valuable asset: our sovereignty,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Today’s court decision is bittersweet. We are protecting our sovereignty, but we do not want to see our UKB brothers and sisters suffer.”

Last June, the UKB and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt signed an agreement requiring the UKB pay $2 million in damages for operating the casino without a compact, as well as securing trust status for the 2.03 acres of land upon which the casino sits.

Recently, Pruitt granted the UKB a 30-day extension for trust status, making the deadline Aug. 30.

The Cherokee Nation filed its motion after the BIA notified officials it would proceed with the UKB’s trust application, expediting the matter to meet the looming deadline.

The casino at 2450 S. Muskogee Ave. has been in operation since 1986, and currently employs 150 people along with providing salary resources for more than 70 other tribal employees.

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.

Baker has offered two solutions to resolve the controversy.

The first option would be for the BIA to take the plot of land into trust on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, and for the CN to immediately sign a 99-year lease with the UKB, with an automatic renewal clause, allowing the UKB to continue gaming operations. Through that pact, the UKB would retain the profits and its 300 employees.

The second option, according to Baker, is to arrange for the UKB gaming facility to move its existing operation to an acreage of land the CN already has in trust for gaming purposes near the junction of Highways 82 and 62, south of Tahlequah. Under this option, the CN would sign a 99-year renewable lease for the UKB to conduct a comparable gaming operation to its current facility.

“It is my hope the UKB leadership will accept one of our offers so they can continue their operations,” Baker told the council.

Baker also announced a new compact for tribal car tags has been negotiated with the state of Oklahoma.

“Through the hard work of Attorney General Hembree, Cherokees in all 77 counties will be able to have a Cherokee car tag,” said Baker.

“This will mean more money for the Cherokee Nation, and we can be a better partner in those communities and create more jobs for Cherokee people.”

In other business, the council approved a budget modification, increasing the tribe’s budget $1.6 million for a total of $575,784,588. The measure also includes a modification that will increase funding for scholarships for Cherokee college students.

The council also approved a resolution for a grant application to create a Native Center for Health Research.

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