Miami representatives speak about lawsuit

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- The Miami Indian tribe says the state of Illinois has resisted the tribe's efforts to settle its lawsuit over 2.6 million acres of Illinois land.

Tom Osterholt, a lawyer for the Oklahoma-based tribe, told about 300 people at a Champaign County Board meeting Monday night that the state has been dragging its feet for more than four years.

"We wouldn't be here today, and there wouldn't be a cloud over your property if your state had dealt with us," Osterholt said.

The tribe has expressed interest in building a casino, as well as a golf course, hotel and cultural complex in Illinois, but Osterholt said Miami leaders prefer a cash settlement reimbursing them for the value of the land.

Osterholt said the tribe filed suit in federal court because the state was ignoring the tribe's legitimate land claim -- that an 1805 treaty gave 2.6 million acres to the Miami. The Miami say they never surrendered the land in the nearly 200 years since.

"The state listened to what the Miami tribe had to say, but the bottom line is that their lawsuit has no merit," said Dan Curry, spokeman for Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan.

The county board is considering a resolution opposing the lawsuit as well as the establishment of a casino or Indian reservation in central Illinois.

The board's policy committee invited testimony from the tribe and the public at the Monday meeting.

George Tiger, a tribe spokesman, and Osterholt both said area residents are jumping to conclusions when they assume the Miami only want the land so they can put a casino on it.

"The misunderstandings that we are having, well, let's just say we get stereotyped a lot," Tiger said.

But residents marched to the podium one after another to denounce the tribe.

County Board Chairman Stephen Moser held a deed for the land on which he lives dated 1862. The deed lists his great grandfather as owner.

"He owned that farm. My grandfather owned it. My father owned it. And now I own it," Moser said. "What's made this land valuable is the hard work of generations of people."

Not everyone who attended was against the tribe.

One man sat in the back row of the gymnasium bleachers with a sign that read, "Welcome Home Miami Nation."

The Miami sued 15 landowners, one each in Champaign, Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Livingston, Moultrie, Shelby and Vermilion counties.

They claim the tribe is entitled to the land, now estimated to be worth about $30 billion, under the 1805 Treaty of Grouseland.

The lawsuit has rallied a broad coalition of opponents, including Attorney General Ryan, the Illinois Farm Bureau and a gaggle of area politicians.

Not all of the foes are fighting only to protect their property.

Many also are concerned about a possible Indian casino.

In fact, the Champaign County Board's policy committee on Monday night approved a seven-paragraph resolution that opposes the lawsuit as well as the establishment of a casino or reservation in central Illinois. The full county board will vote on the resolution next Tuesday.

In Paxton, local officials say Miami tribe representatives are seeking land for a resort to include a golf course and casino. The city of Paxton passed a resolution not to settle with the tribe or support a casino being built in or near Paxton.