Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 31, 2012

UKB celebrates trust decision

But the Cherokee Nation still plans to appeal

TAHLEQUAH — Monday’s 11th-hour ruling to put land into trust on which its casino rests began a new era for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma.

UKB Chief George Wickliffe said Tuesday he believes the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision will help the tribe create jobs.

“Today, we operate under these two books: the Constitution and Bylaws of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma and our corporate charter. Our corporate charter is our business end, and this is what we use, and will be using, to take land into trust and create jobs for our people,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt our brothers and sisters down the road. That’s not the Keetoowah way. That’s not the human way. Other people might be different and try to hurt other tribes. We’re not like that. We’re going to provide for the people. We’re going to work with the community. We’re going to work with other tribes.”

Assistant Chief Charles Locust said the BIA’s decision to recognize the Keetoowah’s request for land trust affirms the UKB identity as equal among other tribes.

“We’ve always been people who want to go by the truth. We feel that truth has come out, and we feel like this [decision] is the result of that truth,” he said. “Yesterday, we got to celebrate, and today, we’re going back to work to take this tribe forward.”

He acknowledged the UKB has a number of decisions to make.

“We’re eligible for more grants and more services for our people that weren’t there before we got the land in trust. We’re no longer a landless tribe. It means more jobs, more scholarships and more opportunities for our people, and that’s what we’re after,” Locust said. “That’s the whole job of a tribe, is to provide services for your people, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re not a very wealthy tribe, but now that we’ve got the land in trust, we’re now equal to all other tribes – and that’s where we wanted to be.”

In previously published reports, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said he would begin the appeal process July 31 if the BIA placed the UKB’s land into trust.

“This decision is not supported by the law,” Hembree said in news release from the Cherokee Nation. “Time after time, courts have held it is the Cherokee Nation, and no other tribe, that has jurisdiction over this land.”

According to the CN news release, the UKB must have the land placed in final trust status within one calendar year of the initial ruling, which can occur only after the appellate process is exercised.

“I look forward to appealing this decision,” said Hembree. “It is fraught with legal misconceptions. Now we will move to a court of law with learned judges who will see through the emotions of this case. I mean no ill will to our UKB brothers and sisters, or to their government. However, this land has always been, and always will be, under the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.”


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