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  • Lani Hansen

Ukb reacts to Cherokee Nation's push for hr 3091

There’s been a lot of talk about “what to do” with the Supreme Court’s harmful decision in Castro-Huerta. And while the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has been pushing H.R. 3091 as a “solution” to address the problems arising from the Court’s decision, as the elected Chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Indians in Oklahoma (UKB), I can tell you that H.R. 3091 has nothing to do with Castro-Huerta. It has nothing to do with sovereignty or with preserving public safety. The CNO wants Congress to pass H.R. 3091 to prevent my nation, the UKB, from taking land into trust to within our historical Cherokee treaty territory. Essentially, this is a termination bill that would terminate the UKB’s sovereign government. The CNO has sought for decades to prevent the UKB from providing healthcare, social, and cultural services to our citizens in their own community.   The UKB is a sovereign tribal nation that pre-dates the United States. Today, we are 14,000 citizens strong. We satisfy the legal successor-in-interest test as a successor to the historical Cherokee Nation because we are direct descendants of the historical treaty tribe and because we have maintained a tribal organization since the time of the treaties. We are also known as the Western Cherokee, or Old Settlers, as many of us were already moving west to Arkansas as early as 1763 to avoid encroachment by colonizers. As the Western Cherokee, we received a reservation in Arkansas and were granted the Cherokee reservation in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) by treaty in 1828. The Keetoowahs have always fought for the rights of traditional Cherokee people, and today enroll Cherokees who have at least one-quarter Cherokee blood. Our members are not members of the CNO. We presently reside in the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma with our capitol at Tahlequah, Oklahoma.   At one point in history, we were recognized by the federal government as the part of the same historical Cherokee Nation as the CNO (along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the only other federally recognized Cherokee tribe in existence today). But the colonization of our lands and forced removal separated us. Today we exist as three separate nations. We speak the same language with different dialects. We were each part of the historical Cherokee Nation, which signed treaties with Great Britain and the United States. We are all the descendants of those who survived the United States’ attempt to eliminate us. We are all successor-in-interest governments descended from the historical Cherokee Nation. That should inspire us to work together, for the betterment of all Cherokee people. But it hasn’t. In 1979, (and again in the 1990s) the CNO attempted to have us thrown off the official list of federal recognized Indian tribes. In the 1980s we were close to receiving land in trust from the Department of the Interior (DOI), but the CNO got a rider slipped into an appropriations act to eliminate our ability to have lands placed in trust. In 1999, Congress reserved that rider. In 2004, we asked the Department of the Interior (DOI) to place a 76-acre parcel of land near the headquarters of our government (in Tahlequah, OK) in trust. We wanted this land to be placed into trust so that we could build and operate community services buildings, a childcare center, a museum, a wellness center, and an elder center and our stomp grounds.   When the Bureau of Indian Affairs (an agency within the DOI) approved our request to place land in trust, the CNO filed a lawsuit against the DOI, the BIA, and their officials, arguing that we, the UKB, could never have land in trust unless we got CNO’s “consent.” CNO has made clear it will never consent to the UKB having trust land.   For years, the CNO sought to prevent us from taking land into trust. And then, in 2019, the case went to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. And the CNO lost. The Court concluded that “that the UKB is a recognized tribe or band of Indians residing in Oklahoma,” and accordingly, the BIA had the requisite authority to take land into trust on our behalf. Ultimately, the Tenth Circuit denied the CNO’s argument that the UKB cannot take land into trust with the Cherokee Nation’s “consent” because “[t]he 1866 Treaty does not grant the Nation the power to veto the UKB’s land-into- trust application.”   The CNO did not like this decision. Keep in mind we are a nation of 14,000. Today, the Cherokee Nation boasts a population of more than 430,000. Each year, the Cherokee Nation brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in gaming revenues from their casinos. That is more than a thousand times our annual operating budget. While the CNO pays hundreds of employees six figure salaries, builds homes and hospitals for CNO citizens, provides meals for elders, and hires an incredible number of PR firms and lobbyists to effectuate its agenda, the UKB, frankly, struggles to fund the provision of basic services to our Cherokee citizens. And still, the Cherokee Nation does not want us to be able to take land into trust.   The Cherokee Nation lost that fight in 2019. But now three years later, in Castro-Huerta, they see an opportunity. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the UKB, as a sovereign Tribal Nation, can take land into trust without the Cherokee Nation’s consent. But if passed into law, H.R. 3091 would prevent the UKB from exercising the right the Tenth Circuit concluded our tribal nation is entitled to. Section 4 of H.R. 3091 states that “the Secretary shall not take any land into trust status within the exterior boundary of the reservation of [Cherokee] Nation unless . . . the [Cherokee] Nation consents in writing to the trust status for such land.”   Preventing the UKB from taking land into trust has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision in Castro-Huerta. But the vast majority of tribal nations are, rightfully so, concerned by the Court’s decision, and they are calling on Congress to pass legislation. The CNO is using this opportunity to call for the passage of H.R. 3091, a proposed bill that has nothing to do with public safety, the sovereignty of all tribal nations, or the problems created by the Court’s decision in Castro-Huerta.   The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s actions in this regard are not in line with our traditional Cherokee values. Traditionally, before colonization and forced removal, we practiced Gadugi—a Cherokee principle that demands that we work together, selflessly, for the betterment of all. H.R. 3091 is the antithesis of Gadugi. It is a termination bill that would effectively kill the United Keetoowah Band government.   We are a humble nation. We may not have the resources that the Cherokee Nation has. But we have our sovereignty. We call on Congress and all tribes to oppose H.R. 3091.



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