Appeals Court Gives Tribe Another Chance In Lawsuit

Wednesday, March 21st 2007, 7:52 am

By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) Efforts by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to get a monetary settlement in an Arkansas River-bed lawsuit get new life after an appeals court decision.

The three-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., was unanimous in reversing a finding by the U.S. Federal Claims Court that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is a necessary party to the lawsuit but doesn't have to join in the suit because of tribal sovereignty. That led to the filing's dismissal.

The appellate court on Tuesday returned the Keetoowahs' lawsuit to the U.S. Federal Claims Court.

"This opinion closes one door for the CNO (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) and opens the door for the UKB," said Michael Gerard Rossettii, the tribe's attorney. "It's a great day for the UKB."

The Cherokee Nation would have the ability to seek federal review by the court by asking it to reconsider its decision, Rossettii said. But it appears the Keetoowahs will argue for a monetary settlement without the Cherokees interfering, he said.

The Cherokee Nation will explore its legal options, tribal spokesman Mike Miller said.

The courts will have to consider whether a tribal corporation like the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians deserves a cash settlement for land they never owned, Miller alleges.

The tribe has no treaties, no land rights and no ties whatsoever to the Arkansas Riverbed and banks, he said.

In 1989, three tribes sued the federal government over the alleged mismanagement of the Arkansas Riverbed. The government settled claims with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw for $40 million. The government set aside $20 million for the Cherokees and $10 million each for the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Federal legislation enacted in 2002 set a statute of limitations on any other tribe seeking compensation from the riverbed lawsuit. The Keetoowah's were the only tribe that applied within the 180-day statute of limitations to become a part of the lawsuit after the settlement.

All the Keetoowahs can seek before the court is a monetary settlement, Rossettii confirmed.

If the tribe is successful in getting money from lawsuit, it will first come out of a $2 million account set aside from the Cherokees $20 million settlement.

If the Keetoowahs are awarded more than $2 million, it will be paid by the federal government.

The Cherokee Nation won't gain or lose title to lands that it alleges ownership of if the trial court awards the Keetoowahs monetary damages, the order states.

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