JUDGE refuses to dismiss Delaware Tribe v Cherokee Nation lawsuit

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that would have forced the Cherokee Nation to accept the Delaware Tribe as a sovereign entity.

The Cherokee Nation has challenged a 1996 ruling from the U.S. Interior Department that granted the federal recognition, saying it affects the Cherokees' sovereign status. The Cherokees sued the Interior Department and its former secretary, Bruce Babbit, in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., which moved the case to federal court in Tulsa.

In 1999, the Cherokees asked the federal court to dismiss its lawsuit without prejudice. Under that scenario, the tribe could renew the case later if terms allowing the Delawares to operate independently within the Cherokee Nation's jurisdiction could not be worked out.

But in May 2000, the Cherokee Nation asked that its dismissal request be withdrawn. The Delawares asked that the case be dismissed so that the Cherokees could not refile it.

At a hearing on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sven Erik Holmes said he had hoped the dispute would have been settled without litigation. But talks collapsed, with each side blaming the other.

Holmes said a lengthy lawsuit could be more costly to each side than an out-of-court settlement.

``If I have to do it (take it to trial), that is what I am paid to do,'' Holmes said. He said he will hear new motions Sept. 28.

The Delawares were incorporated into the Cherokee Nation in 1867. The Cherokee Nation's 14-county jurisdictional area includes Washington County, where the 10,500- member Delaware Tribe is based in Bartlesville.

Delaware Chief Dee Ketchum said the tribe is fighting for its own identity. Cherokee leaders said they are simply concerned about maintaining the Cherokee Nation's jurisdiction.