By Justin Juozpavicius
The Associated Press
TULSA — The Cherokee Nation on Tuesday filed a federal injunction request to prevent the U.S. Department of the Interior from recognizing a rival tribe that has operated a casino on a 2-acre parcel of land within the Cherokees’ control.
The 33-page suit was filed in Muskogee federal court against the 16,000-member United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, who have until July 31 to either shut down the casino in Tahlequah or have the land in question taken into trust — a move that would recognize the parcel as Indian land.
The 323,000-member Cherokee Nation — one of the largest Indian tribes in the U.S. — said in the suit that a preliminary injunction would “preserve the status quo until there is a proper judicial review of the administrative record” of the case.
“The attempt ... 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,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said Tuesday. “The Cherokee Nation will do everything in its power to preserve the integrity of our sovereignty.”
The Keetoowahs — who trace their history to Cherokees who settled in Indian Territory in the 1820s — have fought for decades over the Keetoowah Cherokee Casino, which opened in 1986.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs recently said it would proceed with the Keetoowahs’ trust application, prompting Tuesday’s filing.
A message seeking comment left with the U.S. Department of the Interior was not returned late Tuesday.
Supporters of the UKB called Tuesday’s injunction request by the Cherokee Nation a “never-ending quest to destroy its Cherokee brothers and sisters,” because hundreds of UKB casino employees would lose their jobs.
“The effect of this injunction, if granted, would immediately throw some 300 Keetoowahs out of work, UKB attorney James McMillin said Tuesday in a statement. “We trust that the federal court, upon hearing all of the evidence, will decline to issue an injunction and permit the (U.S.) Department of (the) Interior provisionally to take the land into trust.”
Last year, the UKB tribe reached an agreement with Oklahoma’s attorney general in which the tribe would pay $2 million in damages and agree to close the casino if it hadn’t obtained federal trust status.
Placing the land in trust recognizes it as Indian land, which is required under state law for a casino.
The UKB is based in Tahlequah, along with the much larger Cherokee Nation.