Cherokees Dispute Ruling On Keetoowah Casino Land

Tuesday, July 31st 2012, 10:52 pm
By: News On 6

The celebration at a Tahlequah casino was short-lived.

Monday, the Keetoowah Casino was trumpeting its 11th hour rescue from closing. Now, a neighboring tribe is fighting back, saying it owns the rights to the land where the casino sits. And they want to see it shut down.

"We're here today. We're here to stay. We're not an offshoot of any other tribe. We're the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma," said Charles Locust, the Assistant Chief.

For the last few years, the UKB has been fighting to get the casino's land into trust.

Hours before the tribe was supposed to cease gaming on the land, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled in the tribe's favor.

7/30/2012 Related Story: Tahlequah Casino Will Remain Open

"When the word came, I felt elation," said Keetoowah Casino manager Charlie Dreadfulwater. "I was very relieved that it came through and the government came through and made the right decision."

But not everyone thinks this is the right choice.

"Time after time the courts have ruled the Cherokee Nation is the tribe that has jurisdiction over our reservation," said Todd Hembree, the Cherokee Nation Attorney General.

Since the Keetoowahs were federally recognized in the 1950s, and the Cherokees were not recognized until years later, the Keetoowah Band feels they own the rights to the casino's land.

"We owe no ill will to our UKB brothers and sisters. We share the same history, the same culture, the same language and we have no ill will to their government," Hembree said. "We know, we really do know, that the law is on our side on this issue."

The Keetoowah Band also owns 76 acres of land in Tahlequah that has already been put into governmental trust status.

The Cherokees are currently in the appeals process for that ruling as well.