United Keetoowah Band officials and tribal citizens celebrated the signing of their land into trust Thursday morning.
Before a ceremony at the UKB complex, about a dozen people walked, and more drove, from the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Square in downtown Tahlequah two miles to the UKB complex. They labeled this a Freedom Walk.
"Today is a landmark moment," said Deboraugh Rodgers, who walked while carrying a UKB flag.
"No one tribe is greater than the other. We have the same recognition and authority as they so now. What was taken was given back."
On Dec. 2 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit denied the Cherokee Nation's motion to stay mandate against the UKB from taking 76 acres of land into trust.
"Upon consideration of the responses and the reply, the motion is denied," wrote Clerk Elisabeth A. Shumaker.
The denial of motion to stay comes after Cherokee Nation appealed the court's original Sept. 5 ruling in favor of the UKB.
The documents to put the 67 acres into trust had already been formally signed by Chief Joe Bunch and officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but Thursday was an opportunity for the tribe to come together in recognition.
After a presentation by a color guard at the John Hair Museum and Cultural Center, Ernestine Berry, executive director of JHMCC, said a few words before giving up a prayer.
"When the Keetoowahs started out in 1934 to reorganize the government, they didn't know what we know now and the problems we would have in that interim," said Berry. "We first submitted this land-in-trust when Dallas Proctor was the chief, and that was 17 years ago. So, this time, it's been 17 years, but 80 years ago, John Hitcher, who was our chief at that time, he submitted a request for land. That was 80 years, so we've had 80 years in acquiring this land."
Bunch read a list of invited individuals who could not be present, and recognized former council members and current staff, as well as veterans.
"This would not be complete without the hard work of each and everybody that's been involved with this over the years," said Bunch. "A former leader, Henry Doublehead said this was the land of milk and honey, and this was the Keetoowah land forever and ever."
Deputy Director Jessie Durham of the Eastern Oklahoma Region Regional Office of Indian Affairs offered her congratulations.
The case has been to the 10th Circuit Court three times. The Cherokee Nation could still take it to the Supreme Court.