Kialegee tribal leaders say casino on firm ground
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2012
5/18/12 at 7:56 AM
Read previous stories and key documents about the Kialegees’ planned casino.
WETUMKA - Tiger Hobia, the town king of the Kialegee Tribal Town, broke his silence Friday and reiterated the tribe's position that it has jurisdiction over a property in Broken Arrow where work is under way on a gaming facility.
Hobia said the Red Clay Casino is an economic opportunity that would lead the tribe toward self-sufficiency and less reliance on the federal government.
"That's the path we want to take," he said. "We're trying to get the tribal town (members) to further their education. We're trying to have employment for quite a bit of them, plus our housing. It will help our elderly, because they are the backbone of the tribe.
"We may look for nongaming opportunities, too."
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief George Tiger has not expressed an opinion yet on the jurisdiction issue, but he has previously said the tribal town needs written approval from the Creek Nation's gaming commissioner to operate a casino.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation was once a confederacy of about 44 tribal towns that were eventually removed from their homelands in what is now Alabama and Georgia.
The tribal towns are also members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Despite their differences, Hobia said he and Tiger respect one another.
"As far as working together, we're willing to sit down. But we feel like we do as a tribal town have jurisdiction over that area," Hobia said.
In the area of law enforcement, however, Hobia said the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse Tribal Police has jurisdiction on the Broken Arrow property.
The Kialegees hope to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Broken Arrow Police Department once the casino opens, similar to agreements the other casinos in the Tulsa area have with local law enforcement agencies.
Hobia said the Kialegee Tribal Town has between 400 and 430 members.
He described it as a young tribe, with members mostly from school age to around 50 years old living in the Wetumka area and spread out in other parts of the state, including Broken Arrow.
The property at the southwest corner of 129th East Avenue (Olive Avenue) and 111th Street (Florence Street) in Broken Arrow is a Creek Indian allotment owned by two members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The land owners are leasing the property to the tribal town, which is subleasing it to a development company.
Much has been written nationally about "reservation shopping," in which unscrupulous developers take advantage of unsuspecting, typically smaller tribes by using their sovereign status for their personal gain.
But Hobia insists that's not the case with Golden Canyon Partners, the casino developers.
"As far as reservation shopping (is concerned), that's just something somebody threw in there. But I met with the developers, and they actually do care about the tribe and what they want to get accomplished for the tribe."
The Kialegees have their own housing program and a contract with the Department of Human Services for its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has a food distribution center in Wetumka and last year opened its Southern Regional Offices, which includes a host of services, in Wetumka.
Tribal members refer to Hobia as their mekko, which means "town king" and is the equivalent of a "chief."
Hobia's two sisters are former mekkos. One sister, Mary Givens, is now a receptionist and enrollment clerk for the tribe.
"The funding we receive isn't enough for the things we would like to do for education, housing and health," she said.
Every year in June, the Kialegees have a celebration on the anniversary of becoming a federally-recognized tribe in 1941.They gather to eat, play horseshoes and volleyball, and have a gospel singing. Many of the tribal members are Baptists, Hobia said.
Besides the Kialegee, only two other tribal towns sought federal recognition: the Alabama-Quassarte, also headquartered in Wetumka, and the Thlopthlocco near Okemah.
The Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, of similar size to the Kialegee, operates the Red Hawk Gaming Center on Wetumka's Main Street within the same structure as the U.S. Post Office.
The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town has the Golden Pony Casino on Interstate 40 near Clearview, which is east of Okemah.
The town king's upbringing
Tiger Hobia was born in a rural area close to Wetumka Lake, which is north of Wetumka.
When he was about 5 years old, he was sent to Seneca Indian School, a boarding school established by Society of Friends (Quaker) missionaries near Wyandotte.
"Some of it is hard to remember," Hobia said. "We just got to the point where we got used to it. We really didn't want to be there."
He said he has mixed feelings about his childhood experience there. It was there that he learned to ride a bike and first experienced television. He remembers watching the first Super Bowl there in 1967. It was the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Green Bay Packers, by the way, and Hobia was rooting for the Chiefs.
When he finished the eighth grade, he came back to the Wetumka area, where he had two older brothers and two younger sisters. His mother had died when he was 7.
Original Print Headline: Kialegee firm on casino
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Tiger Hobia, town king of the Kialegee Tribal Town, sits outside the tribe's administrative building in Wetumka on Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Tiger Hobia and attorney Vicki Sousa discuss the tribe's effort to build a casino in Broken Arrow during an interview at the tribe's administrative building in Wetumka on Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Tiger Hobia, town king of the Kialegee Tribal Town, spreads a tribal flag outside the tribe's administrative building in Wetumka on Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World