The Keetoowah Cherokee Casino sits along Muskogee Avenue in Tahlequah, Okla. The casino, which is owned and operated by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, is the center of a federal court filing by Cherokee Nation officials on July 23. The filing seeks an injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and the Bureau of Indian Affairs from placing land on which the casino sits into trust. ARCHIVE PHOTO

CN files injunction against UKB trust land

BY WILL CHAVEZ
07/23/2013 02:09 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation filed a petition on July 23 in federal court in Tulsa for an injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and the Bureau of Indian Affairs from placing land into trust for the United Keetoowah Band’s casino.

The filing in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Oklahoma states the UKB for more than 18 years has operated the “illegal gaming facility” on 2.03 acres located in Tahlequah, which is the capital of the CN and UKB.

“The attempt by the BIA to place land into trust for another tribe or band of Indians in our jurisdiction is contrary to law, and we intend to prove that in court,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “The Cherokee Nation will do everything in its power to preserve the integrity of our sovereignty.”

State officials in 2004 sued the UKB to cease gaming operations. The case was moved to U.S. District Court a year later. The UKB was able to continue gaming with a federal temporary injunction while the trust issue was resolved. The UKB reached an agreement in 2012 with the state to either cease gaming or have the land taken into trust by July 31, 2013.

The BIA recently notified the CN it would proceed with the UKB’s trust application before the deadline. The notification is what prompted the CN’s July 23 filing.

In 2012, hours before a deadline to cease gaming operations on July 30, UKB officials received word that the Department of Interior had granted trust status for casino land. The BIA operates under the DOI.

A 10-page letter from then-acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Michael Black stated the evaluation of the UKB request indicates that federal requirements for acquiring the land into trust had been satisfied.

Black added that DOI officials believe the “former reservation” of the CN is the “former reservation of the UKB” and that the “UKB may conduct gaming on this property.”

“Now that we have determined that the former reservation of the Cherokee Nation is also the former reservation of the UKB…the regulatory consent of the Cherokee Nation is no longer applicable,” Black’s letter stated.

According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribes may only game on eligible lands within the limits of the tribe’s jurisdiction, held in trust by the United States.

CN officials have said the UKB has no legal ground for trust land within the Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction. Before the July 30, 2012, decision, the CN was appealing a ruling by former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk that granted the UKB trust status on 76 acres south of the casino.

The UKB opened the casino in 1986 and has operated it without federal oversight or a compact with the state for years. In 2000, the UKB obtained an injunction from then-Cherokee County District Court Judge John Garrett that kept law enforcement from imposing gaming law violations on the casino. That injunction was lifted on July 10, 2012, as part of the UKB’s agreement with the state.

On July 21, 2011, the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled the casino land was not Indian land and didn’t qualify for gaming. Less than a month later, the UKB amended a trust application to include the casino property.

In response to last year’s DOI statement, Hembree said the CN has always had “exclusive jurisdiction over” the 14 counties that make up its boundaries. He said the BIA’s belief that the UKB and CN are both predecessors of the CN “brought over here through the forced removal” was troubling because the UKB formed in 1946 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.

In response to the filing, UKB attorney James C. McMillin said the CN’s request was part of its “never ending quest to destroy its Cherokee brother and sisters.”

“The effect of this injunction, if granted, would immediately throw some 300 Keetoowahs out of work. We trust that the federal court, upon hearing all of the evidence, will decline to issue an injunction and permit the Department of Interior provisionally to take the land into trust,” McMillin said.

will-chavez@cherokee.org


918-207-3961



Click here to view the Plaintiffs' motion for temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction.

Click here to view the Plaintiffs' brief in support of motion for temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction.

Click here to view the declaration of Todd Hembree in support of plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief.

Click here to view plaintiffs' amended motion for temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction.
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