UKB withdraws gaming intentions within CN reservation
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation says now that the United Keetoowah Band has withdrawn plans for gaming within the CN reservation, it will move to dismiss a legal complaint lodged in November.
In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the CN had challenged what it called the UKB’s “unauthorized attempt to engage in gaming on the Cherokee Nation reservation” via a notice to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
“After the case was filed, UKB withdrew its notice to engage in gaming activity with the National Indian Gaming Commission,” CN Attorney General Sara Hill said in a prepared statement. “Consequently, my office is planning to dismiss the complaint filed in the Northern District of Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation will continue to vigorously defend its sovereignty and the integrity of its reservation.”
The CN’s nearly 40-page complaint, filed Nov. 20 against UKB Chief Joe Bunch, the assistant chief and more than a dozen other tribal officials, challenged the UKB’s intent to “license, conduct and regulate gaming” at the River Brewhouse on Muskogee Avenue in Tahlequah and on an adjacent 2 acres.
“Neither parcel of land is held in trust for UKB,” the CN’s court filing states. “UKB’s theory, instead, appears to be that these sites are located within a UKB reservation. In its notice to the NIGC, UKB refers to the River Brewhouse site as ‘held in fee by the Keetoowah Cherokee within its reservation.’ This assertion that UKB has a reservation is wrong. Both sites, however, are located within the Cherokee Nation Reservation and therefore on the ‘Indian lands’ of the Cherokee Nation.”
A call to the UKB seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The CN asserts that “the only lawful conduct of gaming on the Cherokee Nation Reservation are those games licensed” by the CN Gaming Commission.
“All other gaming activities and operations are prohibited by the Cherokee Nation’s Criminal Code,” the tribe’s filing states. “The Cherokee Nation’s extensive regulation of gaming on its Reservation is an expression of its sovereign right to self-government on its Reservation, a right which is guaranteed by treaties that the Nation signed with the United States when the Nation agreed to remove to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and again after the Civil War in the 1860s.”
The CN claimed the “illegal competition” would “reduce the Nation’s gaming revenues.”
“The Cherokee Nation uses these gaming revenues to fund its governmental programs and services which support … public safety, social services and other services benefitting the Cherokee Nation’s citizens and the residents of the Cherokee Nation Reservation.”
In 2019, the UKB won a legal battle for land in trust for non-gaming within the CN’s jurisdiction. Those efforts were met with legal opposition by the CN, which asserted the UKB was not a “successor in interest” to its former reservation or treaty territory. The CN also argued that its consent was required for taking land into trust within CN boundaries.
In September 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit vacated an injunction that prevented the UKB’s 76 acres 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, which was denied, as was a motion to temporarily stop the judgment.
Unsatisfied with the lower court’s rulings, in January 2020, the CN petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court via a Writ of Certiorari to hear the case. The certiorari petition was “based on the United States’ unprecedented assertion of unilateral authority to take land into trust for one tribe within the boundaries of another tribe’s treaty-protected territory,” a letter from Hill stated.
An order released by the Supreme Court on June 22, 2020, listed the certiorari as “denied.”
According to CN, no court has ever found UKB to be a successor in interest to Cherokee Nation’s former treaties or treaty territory.