Cherokees to appeal decision placing Keetoowah casino land in trust
BY Staff Reports
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
7/31/12 at 3:18 PM
The Cherokee Nation said today that it will appeal a last-minute government decision that allowed a casino to remain open in Tahlequah.
On Monday, just hours before the Keetoowah Cherokee Casino was set to close, the federal government announced that the land on which the casino is located was placed into trust. The ruling allows the United Keetoowah Band to continue operating the casino that has been in a decades-long court dispute.
"This decision is not supported by the law,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said in a press release issued today. “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.”
The Keetoowahs own the land on which the casino sits, but tribes must have jurisdiction over the land as one stipulation to operate a casino. The long-running dispute over the casino centered on whether the Keetoowahs - a landless tribe - had jurisdiction.
Facing a deadline to close the casino Monday night, the tribe received word from the federal government that its 20-year quest to have the land placed in trust had been approved. The Keetoowahs had 2.03 acres placed in trust by the U.S. Department of Interior. The department previously had refused the Keetoowahs requests for land within the boundaries of the former Cherokee reservation without the consent of the Cherokee Nation.
But, according to a letter Monday, the Department of Interior determined that the former Cherokee reservation was also a Keetoowah reservation. Thus, the Keetoowahs didn’t need the Cherokee Nation’s consent, the letter stated.
The Cherokee Nation, headquartered in Tahlequah, indicated Tuesday that the Keetoowah’s final trust status for the land was a process that would continue. And it would include a court fight from the Cherokees.
“Now we will move to a court of law with learned judges who will see through the emotions of this case,” Hembree said in a press release. “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.”
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Keetoowah officials wouldn't comment on the Cherokee Nation's objection, other than to say "it was expected."
"We've never wanted to take anything away from anybody else," said casino general manager Rodney Fourkiller. "All we've ever wanted is what is ours."
The trust status will be published in the Federal Register within the next 30 days, making it "final," said assistant chief Charles Locust. And that will set a precedent for the Keetoowah tribe to ask for more land to be put in trust, he said.
"We have a pathway now to follow," he said. "It really helps us."
The United Keetoowah Band was federally recognized as a tribe in 1946 and claim to be one of two successor governments to the 1906 Cherokee Nation rolls.
The tribe began operating a gambling facility on land it purchased in Tahlequah as early as 1991. Within several years, the National Indian Gaming Commission was inspecting the facility and collecting fees, records show.
For more on this story, see Wednesday's Tulsa World.
United Keetoowah Band Casino in Tahlequah. MIKE BROWN/For the Tulsa World