Media relations was the topic of the day at the United Keetoowah Band council meeting Saturday. Specifically, Chief George Wickliffe and Assistant Chief Charles Locust aren’t thrilled with the way the Daily Press reports news about the UKB.

Last Tuesday, the Press ran a story about a federal judge in Muskogee ordering the National Indian Gaming Commission to explain why that agency doesn’t consider the UKB’s casino to be on Indian trust land. The order stems from a lawsuit between the UKB and the state of Oklahoma, which contends the tribe’s casino, located near the Tahlequah Wal-Mart Supercenter, is illegal.

That story stated, “The United Keetoowah Band scored a victory Monday – at least temporarily – in its lawsuit with the state of Oklahoma over the tribe’s Tahlequah casino.”

Wickliffe, however, said he didn’t like the use of the word “temporary.”

“We had a paper right here in Tahlequah that called it ‘temporary’ just to sell papers I guess,” said Wickliffe. “I have a problem with people who do things like that, just to sell newspapers.”

Wickliffe said the federal judge’s order to remand the case to the NIGC was the “biggest thing to happen to the United Keetoowah Band, except when they got approval to get federal funding,” and added that four hog fries will be sponsored by the tribe at various locations to celebrate.

“I think the people are due to be really informed, and to celebrate a little bit,” he said.

Wickliffe also complained about a previous Daily Press story in which Charles Rogers of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office said any smokeshop the tribe opened would be illegal because the UKB doesn’t have any Indian trust land – a requirement for Indian tobacco sales. Tribal officials – including both Wickliffe and Locust – were quoted in a Jan. 23 Tulsa World story as saying the UKB would soon be opening a smokeshop in their casino.

Wickliffe told the Daily Press reporter at the Saturday meeting, “You asked the Attorney General a loaded question.”

(In fact, Rogers was never asked a question, but simply presented with the information about the UKB’s intentions to open a smokeshop.)

The Daily Press smokeshop story – which ran on Jan. 25 – also noted that the UKB had not provided a copy of a letter to the tribe from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to the Daily Press (the Press still has not received a copy of the letter). That letter and a 1999 tobacco compact with the state, tribal leaders contended in the Tulsa World story, allows them to legally sell tobacco.

Wickliffe and Locust contradicted each other on why – or even if – the letter had or had not been faxed to the Daily Press.

Wickliffe suggested the Daily Press reporter had not checked the newspaper’s fax machine, or that the fax machine was malfunctioning, implying that the letter had indeed been faxed.

Later, however, in his budget and finance committee report to the council, Locust said the letter had never been faxed to the Daily Press.

“We didn’t want to make this an issue when we have all these other issues like the Arkansas River Bed,” said Locust.

(The tribe is currently appealing a Washington, D.C. federal court’s decision denying the UKB Arkansas River bed rights like those the Cherokee Nation acquired in 2002. The Cherokee Nation has opposed the UKB’s acquisition of those rights, as well as the UKB’s efforts to have their casino property designated as “Indian land.”)

Locust added that, in light of the current dispute between the state of Oklahoma and other Indian tribes over tobacco sales, the UKB would postpone the opening of their smokeshop.

Locust also voiced displeasure at the use of the word “temporary” in the Press’ story about the UKB casino lawsuit, and implied that the Cherokee Nation had a hand in dictating the wording of the story. However, in his gaming board report, Locust said the UKB intends to “utilize this time frame. It’s bought us some time so we can continue providing services to our people.”

Creek Nation Councilor George Tiger also spoke to the UKB council about the ongoing dispute between the state and tribes over tobacco compacts.

The state’s tobacco compacts with tribes are “racist,” Tiger said, adding that tobacco sales by Hispanics and Blacks are not regulated like those by Indians. Tiger said he and other representatives of the Creek Nation were told by Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry that, “It’s time Indian tribes started giving a little bit.” The Creek Nation’s tobacco compact with the state expired a year ago, he said, and has not bene renewed.

“If they’d said that to the Black community, they’d have a fight on their hands,” said Tiger.

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