Tribal leader says building a casino was not the reason for land reclamation lawsuit

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Leaders of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma are seeking to reclaim 2.6 million acres in Illinois because the land belongs to their people, not to build a casino on it, the tribe's chief spokesman said.

George Tiger, the Miami Tribe's public affairs director, accused opponents of the tribe's federal lawsuit of stereotyping the tribe, saying Indian tribes nationally are linked to gambling.

Tiger told those attending the American Indian Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Tulsa Country Club on Thursday that the land was given to the Miamis through a federal treaty and trusts, and the tribe never ceded it away.

Later, "the government came in and sold it," Tiger said.

"They removed the Miami people from that area," first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma. The tribe is based in Miami, Okla., and has 2,200 members.

He said the Miami Tribe has "a solid claim" to the land, "but the fact is that many people in Illinois .5/8.5/8. don't understand Indian people .5/8.5/8. they don't understand that tribes have viable governments."

New York shopping mall developer, Thomas C. Wilmont Sr., is bankrolling the tribe's lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Ill. Wilmont earlier said he has paid most of the tribe's legal fees as a business investment because of the potential land development, which could include a casino.

The tribe has found little support in Illinois.

A spokesman for the Illinois governor said Miami Chief Floyd Leonard has said he would consider settling the lawsuit for a gaming license.

"This proves what we've been saying all along, that casino gaming is the preferred end result of this assault on landowners in eastern Illinois," the governor's spokesman said.

Jim Kingston, mayor of Paxton, Ill., said Wilmont told him the Miamis want up to 1,000 acres, possibly for a casino. And U.S. Rep.

Tim Johnson, R-Ill., has returned two $1,000 campaign donations to the Wilmont family.

Johnson vowed he is "going to do everything in my power to make sure this land grab does not occur."

Tiger said the Illinois governor's office brought up the matter of a casino first.

"How about a casino? Would you be able to settle for a casino?" Tiger said the governor's office asked.

Tiger said the reaction from Chief Leonard was that if that was "one of the negotiation points, sure."

"Well, from that day on, it's always: `Tribe wants casino in Illinois.'5/8"

Thee lawsuit was filed against the land owners because the state of Illinois didn't exist when the treaty was signed giving the Miamis the land, Tiger said.

The tribe and its chief have "always said that negotiations are on the table. We are willing to negotiate .5/8.5/8. we are saying, `Let's sit down and talk about it.'5/8"