Court rules in CN’s favor on UKB trust land case

Multimedia Reporter
06/01/2017 01:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After awaiting a decision for approximately three years, a federal judge on May 31 ruled in the Cherokee Nation’s favor in its lawsuit against the Interior Department, which in 2011 stated the United Keetoowah Band could have 76 acres of trust land within the CN’s jurisdiction without the Nation’s consent.

Judge Ronald White, of the District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, stated the Interior putting land into trust for the “UKB or the UKB Corporation” violated treaties between the United States and the CN, and could not be done without the CN’s consent. White also stated the Interior’s 2011 decision was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

“Furthermore, in accordance with the court’s findings herein, the (Interior) Secretary is enjoined from taking the Subject Tract into trust without the Cherokee Nation’s written consent and full consideration of the jurisdictional conflicts and the resulting administrative burdens the acquisition would place on the (Interior’s Eastern Oklahoma) Region. Before taking any land into trust for the UKB or the UKB Corporation, the Region shall consider the effect of Carcieri (v. Salazar) on such acquisition,” the ruling states.

A 2009 Supreme Court case, Carcieri v. Salazar, broadly held that the Interior secretary’s authority to place land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act applies only to tribes that were “under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934. The UKB formed in 1946 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.

White’s ruling also “remands” the action to the Interior’s Eastern Oklahoma Region.

CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said the case was a “critical” win and that “no issue” is more important to the Nation’s government than “preservation” of its sovereign rights.

“The court rightly deemed the BIA’s (Bureau of Indian Affairs) pursuit for trust land for another tribe within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction was illegal,” he said.

Hembree said the court saw the “facts” and decided “justly” on the ruling.

“We have said time and time again, the Cherokee Nation is the only tribe that can exercise authority within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction,” he said.

UKB officials had no comment on the ruling as of publication.

According to a 2014 Cherokee Phoenix article, the CN filed the lawsuit with the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa after the Interior ruled to give the UKB 76 acres of trust land.

In the lawsuit, the CN states the Interior’s 2011 decision permits it to take 76 acres located within the CN’s “former reservation and historic treaty territory of the Cherokee Nation” into trust for the UKB.

“The 2011 decision is contrary to an unbroken line of prior departmental rulings and to a series of decisions by this court,” the complaint states.

The complaint requested the court declare that the UKB is not a “successor in interest” to the CN’s former reservation or treaty territory and that the Nation’s consent is required for taking land into trust within the tribe’s boundaries. It also asked the court to declare that the Interior’s 2011 decision violates treaties entered between the CN and U.S. and that it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law.” Also, it asked the court to declare that the DOI would act in excess of its legal and regulatory trust authority it if took the land into trust.

The complaint also wanted the court to prevent the DOI from taking any action to implement the 2011 decision.

The UKB first submitted an application for trust land in 2004, but the BIA declined it in 2006. The UKB appealed, only to have the application declined again in August 2008. The UKB then appealed once more.

In September 2008, the then-acting Indian Affairs assistant secretary took over jurisdiction of the appeal, concluding that the UKB should be allowed to amend the application, which it did.

In 2013, 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 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.

Click here toread the court documents.
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