BIA decision says United Keetoowah Band can seek trust land
Officialsfor the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians are hoping the Bureau ofIndian Affairs will place 76 acres of land into trust. A ceremonial ground,elder center, right, wellnesscenter and child development center are located on the land in Tahlequah, OKla.PHOTO BY WILL CHAVEZ
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk wrote in a Sept. 10 decision that the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma can seek trust land if it amends its application.
He states the decision was not based on the UKB’s status as a successor to land now held by the Cherokee Nation and withdrew that portion of a decision he made in June 2009.
In that decision, Echo Hawk wrote that the CN no longer existed and it and the UKB were equals regarding jurisdiction in a 14-county area of northeastern Oklahoma.
“Because I do not decide this issue based on the UKB’s status as a successor, I withdraw those portions of the June 24, 2009, decision concerning the successor in interest status of the UKB and the CNO,” he wrote in his latest decision.
However, he states he is reaffirming his June 2009 decision regarding conflicting jurisdiction and that the “perceived jurisdictional conflicts” between the two tribes are not so significant that he should deny the UKB’s application to have 76 acres put into trust.
“After careful consideration, and based on the briefing provided in this matter, I conclude that the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) Regional Director should allow the UKB to amend its application,” Echo Hawk wrote.
He listed three ways the UKB could continue with its trust application:
1. He could invoke his authority under Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act that allows him to take land in trust for people who are “one-half or more Indian blood.” Those people could then transfer their interest in the trust land to the UKB.
2. He could invoke his authority under Section 3 of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act and seek to have land held in trust for the UKB as an incorporated group. He wrote that Section 3 authorizes him to charter corporations and that “such charters may convey to the incorporated group…any other rights or privileges secured to an organized Indian tribe under the (Indian Reorganization) Act of June 18, 1934.”
3. Or he could invoke his authority under Section 1 of the OIWA, which authorizes him to take land into trust for a tribe, band, group or individual Indian provided that the lands “shall be agricultural and grazing land of good character and quality in proportion of the respective needs of the tribe.”
“The UKB is such a tribe,” Echo Hawk wrote.
In a statement, UKB officials said the decision has “reaffirmed the tribe’s ability to obtain and to exercise governmental jurisdiction over its trust land located within the 14-county historic Cherokee area.”
The UKB statement did acknowledge additional administrative filings with the BIA are still necessary, but “the tribe has every confidence that the BIA will act quickly to accept their pending trust applications once additional administrative filings are completed and processed by the (BIA) Regional Director.”
The land the UKB wants in trust contains its community gathering and celebration site as well as its elder, wellness, child development, civil defense, tribal programs and museum buildings.
“This result clears the pathway for putting land in trust on behalf of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma 60 years after their federal recognition. We look at this as a complete victory,” said UKB Chief George Wickliffe.
However, CN officials also claimed victory with the release of Echo Hawk’s statement.
Principal Chief Chad Smith said Echo Hawk’s latest decision acknowledges the UKB “has never had a treaty with any federal government, has no treaty rights and was created by the United States in 1950.”
The decision also leaves intact decades of federal laws and federal court decisions, which “reaffirm that the Cherokee Nation as it exists today is the same Cherokee Nation that has existed since before recorded time,” he said.
“This is an argument that’s been played out for decades, but the end result is always the same. No matter how many times the UKBCIO says they are the Cherokee Nation and has the rights of the Cherokee Nation, they are not the Cherokee Nation and they don’t have any treaties,” Smith said. “If the UKBCIO leadership spent its time and money trying to work together with the Cherokee Nation rather than trying to tear down the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty, our Cherokee people would probably be a lot better off. But as long as they keep trying to steal the Cherokee Nation’s identity and assets, we have to keep defending ourselves.”
Smith said he is not opposed to the UKB having trust land as long as it is not within CN boundaries.