By TEDDYE SNELL
After the Cherokee Nation on Tuesday petitioned to block a Bureau of Indian Affairs move to allow the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to place a parcel of land into trust, CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker offered two solutions to resolve the controversy.
The land, 2.03 acres, is home to the UKB Casino, which has been operating since 1986 at 2450 S. Muskogee Ave. 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.
The first option offered by Baker is for the Department of Interior 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 employee base.
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 UKB to conduct a comparable gaming operation to its current facility.
“As the elected leader of the Cherokee Nation, I never want to see jobs or economic opportunities lost for our extended Cherokee families,” said Baker in a press release.
A statement released by the UKB attorneys indicates if the injunction is allowed, a number of casino employees could lose their jobs: “In its never-ending quest to destroy its Cherokee brothers and sisters, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has this day filed a request that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma enter an order to prohibit the Department of Interior from taking land, presently owned by the UKB, into trust. The effect of this injunction, if granted, would immediately throw some 300 Keetoowahs out of work. We trust that the federal court, upon hearing all of the evidence, will decline to issue an injunction and permit the Department of Interior provisionally to take the land into trust.”