Keetoowah Band resolves land-into-trust dispute
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Keetoowah Casino, operated by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma (UKB), received a stay of execution from the BIA on Monday, July 30. The casino, opened by the Tribe in 1991, would have closed on Monday night if a ruling had not been issued.
The casino’s future relied on a land-into-trust application with the Department of Interior.
“Our evaluation of the Tribe’s request indicates that the Federal requirements for acquiring this property into trust have been satisfied,” Michael S. Black, acting Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, wrote in his decision on Monday. “The Regional Director will be authorized to approve the conveyance document accepting the property in trust for the Tribe…”
UKB Assistant Chief Charles Locust said, “Without this decision, our casino would’ve shut down and place the jobs of 200 people and the life-altering services this casino provides to our tribal members in jeopardy. But, that didn’t happen.”
Locust went on to say, “This decision is everything for us. After decades of fighting just to stay afloat, we’ve finally gotten to a point where we can start growing.”
Prior to Monday’s ruling, the UKB did not have any land held in trust status. The land in question is 2.03 acres located in Tahlequah, Okla.
Black’s ruling stated, “The gaming parcel is located within the last treaty boundaries of the Cherokee Nation as defined by the terms of the Treaty of New Echota, 7 Stat. 478, and the 1866 Treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, 14. Stat. 799, in an area generally identified as the former Cherokee reservation.”
The Cherokee Nation was not happy with Monday’s decision.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said, “This decision is not supported by the law. Time after time, courts have held it is the Cherokee Nation, and no other tribe, that has jurisdiction over this land. I look forward to appealing this decision. It is fraught with legal misconceptions.”
He continued, “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.”
The UKB, one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, received federal recognition in 1946.