Tahlequah Daily Press

January 17, 2014

Board dismisses Cherokee Nation appeal in United Keetoowah Band trust case

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The U.S. Department of Interior Board of Indian Appeals on Jan. 6 dismissed the Cherokee Nation’s appeal seeking to prevent the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma from putting a 76-acre parcel of land into trust.

The land, just northwest of Willis Road, is known as the “Community Services Parcel,” and serves as the village center for UKB members. It is home to the tribe’s dance grounds, elder center, museum and other governmental offices.

The Cherokee Nation was seeking review of a May 24, 2011, decision made by the acting Eastern Oklahoma regional director of the BIA, who approved an application by the UKB for the U.S. to accept title to the land – now owned in fee by the UKB – in trust for the UKB Corp.

The BIA regional director and the UKB contend every question presented in the CN’s appeal was decided by the assistant secretary, rendering the regional director’s decision a “ministerial act,” and that the IBIA therefore lacks jurisdiction to review the decision.

The IBIA concluded that most, if not all, issues raised in the appeal were decided by the assistant secretary, thus warranting the board’s dismissal.

“... Even assuming that we may have jurisdiction to consider some issues, another factor has presented itself during the pendency of the appeal: The assistant secretary issued a final departmental decision to accept another parcel in trust for the UKB tribal corporation, and [the CN] has challenged that decision in federal court, raising precisely the same issues for which it seeks board review in this appeal,” states the document.

“Because the assistant secretary decided the same issues, and the [BIA] is now defending the assistant secretary’s decision in litigation, the board will abstain from exercising whatever residual jurisdiction it may have.”

The ruling is referring to the current federal case in which the Cherokee Nation is seeking to prevent the UKB’s trust application for the parcel of land on which the former UKB casino sits. That case is set to be heard May 9 in front Judge Gregory Frizzell in the Northern District of Oklahoma court.