TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - A landmark decision by the tenth circuit of appeals today will give an Oklahoma tribe a tribal land base after years of litigation. 

The United Keetoowah Band said getting land-in-trust opens up opportunity to improve so many parts of their lives, from healthcare, to grant money, education and more.

“It’s one of the happiest days of my life,” said former Chief John Hair. “I like what is going on.”

Former chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, or UKB, John Hair is talking about the decision made by the federal tenth circuit court of appeals today to overturn a ruling made years ago.

“It was overturned and removed an injunction for our land and trust of 76 acres,” said current UKB Chief Joe Bunch. 

The UKB tribe bought 76 acres to turn into a cultural center back in 2000. It’s land that was within the old Cherokee Nation Reservation boundaries.

The Cherokee Nation is separate from the UKB.

Initially, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the UKB use of the land, but the Cherokee Nation sued and won. That all changed Thursday when the appeals court overturned that and decided the Keetoowahs could have their tribal land base.

“This is the spring board to go into economic development, and get federal program dollars we should have been acquiring,” Bunch said. 

Bunch said this qualifies them for grants which will improve education and health care. They also hope to reopen their casino which closed six years ago due to the litigation.

“Some grants are only awarded by land and trust,” said UKB Secretary Joyce Hawk. “Our goal is to help our tribal members.”

There are about 14,000 Keetoowahs. To become part of the tribe you must prove you’re at least one quarter Cherokee by blood and be exclusively UKB.

“This is tremendous, this is exciting,” Bunch said. “I ran down the halls today cheering and yelling.”

The Cherokee Nation sent us a statement saying in part it is considering further legal options and say that it still has governmental authority over the land.