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  • Lani Hansen

10th Circuit deems CNO appeal “moot,” opens door for UKB to submit new land in trust application



The Keetoowah Cherokee Casino began operations on February 14, 1986. It closed its doors in August 2013 after CNO sued the UKB. The UKB will now submit a new land in trust application for the property with the hopes of making it eligible for tribal gaming once again. PHOTO MIKE BROWN/TULSA WORLD

DENVER - The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 6 to dismiss an appeal from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Assistant Secretary for its 2012 decision to take 2.03 acres into trust for the UKB for tribal gaming purposes in Tahlequah.

The court ruled the appeal as “moot” after the DOI elected to withdraw their case on UKB’s behalf during the appeals process.

The decision to withdraw was due to changes in Oklahoma law influenced by the McGirt ruling, according to the document, which reads: Assistant Secretary Newland’s position is that the reasoning in recent judicial opinions “changed the legal landscape of Oklahoma lands” and “undermine[d] the Department of the Interior’s . . . decision regarding ‘former reservation’ status for these lands.”

The May 6th judgment also “vacates the district court’s judgment” in the case, which references a March 24, 2020 ruling from the U.S. Northern District of Oklahoma Court in Tulsa that stated the DOI could not take 2.03-acres of land in Tahlequah into trust for the purpose of tribal gaming for the UKB.

Since withdrawing its original case, the DOI has instructed the tribe to submit a new land into trust application for the 2.63 acre property, which also updates the size of the location, up from 2.03 acres.

That application will be forthcoming sometime this summer, according to UKB Attorney General Klint Cowan.

“We have the ability to make a new land in trust application for our casino parcel based on the current reservation test, not the former reservation test, since there is no ‘former’ reservation,” said Cowan. “We hope to have the application submitted in the next couple of months. We also hope that the DOI will review it on an expedited basis, because it has been at least 15 years since we first submitted this parcel on a trust application. The only outstanding issue we see now is whether we can game on it, which we feel confident about since we’ve already met requirements for trust land before when we were granted our 76 acres by the 10th Circuit in 2019.”

UKB Chief Joe Bunch said the tribe is reviewing all options tied to the decision and looks forward to the future.

“We are reviewing our options,” he said. “It is import to note that this decision hampers the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s attempt in denying the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians sovereignty and the ability to govern ourselves. We thank the Lord for the many blessings he has given us and look forward to our future.”



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