Appeals court won’t rehear UKB trust land case

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
11/21/2019 01:30 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Joe Bunch on Sept. 5 celebrates a legal win to place land in trust within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit says it will not revisit a September decision that favored the United Keetoowah Band’s longstanding fight to have 76 acres of land placed in trust.

“The ability of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the Keetoowahs means we will forever have land to use as we see fit,” the UKB stated on its Facebook page, “as well as opens the door to additional federal funding for our members. This case also has other implications, including clearing the way for our other properties to eventually be taken into trust, such as the old casino property.”

On Sept. 5, the appeals court vacated a 2017 injunction that prevented the UKB’s land from being placed in trust in the case of United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians v. the Cherokee Nation. The CN subsequently filed a petition for rehearing.

According to an order from the circuit court clerk, the CN’s “petition for rehearing is denied.” The UKB was notified Nov. 9.

“While (the CN) could choose to appeal one last time to the Supreme Court, the tribe will continue to move forward with land in trust on the 76-acre tract we call owenvsv, or ‘home,’” the UKB’s statement notes.

CN Attorney General Sara Hill’s office had no comment on either current or potential future developments in the case.

The UKB purchased the undeveloped tract of land, which lies within the CN’s jurisdictional boundaries, for its tribal and culture center in 2000. Four years later, the tribe submitted an application to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in trust, but it wasn’t until 2011 that it was approved.

“In August of 2012, the Cherokee Nation filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior because of its decision to allow the United Keetoowah Band to have trust land of its own within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation,” the CN Attorney General’s web page states. “In fact, the land in question is located in the heart of the Cherokee Nation’s capital – Tahlequah, Oklahoma.”

The CN argued that the UKB was not a “successor in interest” to its former reservation or treaty territory, and that the Nation’s consent was required for taking land into trust within the tribe’s boundaries.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma ruled in favor of the CN, “determining that the BIA’s decision to take the subject parcel into trust was ‘arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law,’” according to court documents.

The Court of Appeals’ Sept. 5 decision states that the Secretary of Interior “has authority to take the Subject Parcel into trust under section 3 of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. The BIA was therefore not required to consider whether the UKB meets the IRA’s definition of ‘Indian.’ Nor was the BIA required to obtain the Nation’s consent before taking the land into trust. We also hold that the BIA’s application of its regulations was not arbitrary and capricious.”
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