Federal judge orders halt to sale of Indian oil lands in Oklahoma

Thursday, September 2nd 2004, 5:45 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to temporarily halt its auction of Indian lands in Oklahoma, some of which come with rights for oil drilling.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth signed the restraining order late Tuesday at the request of lawyers in the multibillion-dollar lawsuit by American Indians against the Interior Department.

``In no way are we saying that individuals don't have the right to sell their land,'' said Keith Harper, a lawyer for the Indians. ``The problem is that it is not at all clear that they have given knowing consent to the sale, or that they would get fair market value.''

The department had planned to start opening bids Wednesday for the 26 parcels of land totaling about 2,000 acres in the oil-rich region around Anadarko, Okla. It was once a hunting ground for numerous tribes such as the Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Wichita and Caddo. The parcels range in size from about two to 160 acres.

Dan DuBray, an Interior Department spokesman said the auction involved Indians who had asked the department to sell their lands. He said the judge's order would affect all further sales. ``Its been a practice of the Department for 30 years,'' he said.

The class-action suit was filed in 1996 on behalf of more than 300,000 Indians. It alleges that the government, for more than a century, mismanaged or stole billions of dollars in oil, gas, timber and grazing royalties that should have gone to the Indians.