FROM THE ARCHIVE

Delaware tribal status dispute continues

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THURSDAY, AUGUST 1, 2002

A federal judge this week agreed to strike down a decades-old Bureau of Indian Affairs decision to terminate separate relations with the Delaware Tribe of eastern Oklahoma.

U.S. District Judge Sven Erik Holmes said the determination was based on "flawed" reasoning that gave the tribe no opportunity to comment. "The 1979 letter was striking both for the superficiality of its analysis and for the sweeping impact of its conclusions," he wrote in a July 23 order.

But Holmes was reluctant to acknowledge in full the tribe's goverment-to-government relationship with the United States. Citing unanswered questions, he asked all affected parties to present him with additional arguments this month and next.

Despite the delay, the order seems to clear the way for the tribe to regain what it believes was wrongly denied. For at least 50 years, tribal leaders have sought official recognition.

"We are much closer to home," Delaware Chief Dee Ketchum told The Tulsa World this week.

The Cherokee Nation, however, has resisted the notion of separate sovereignty. Delaware tribal members are enrolled, or can choose to enroll, with the much larger tribe.

The dispute at hand reaches back to 1996, when then-Assistant Secretary Ada Deer, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, announced the "independent" status of the tribe. She said she based the decision on a "comprehensive" legal analysis of the case.

"In retracting the 1979 determination, the Delaware Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma, within the restraints imposed by federal law, will be considered a sovereign tribe and will have the same rights to demand consultation and contracting as other tribes," the BIA said in a statement at the time.

The Cherokee Nation filed suit against the Department of Interior after the decision was announced. The Delaware Tribe was allowed to intervene in late 1998 and the dispute has dragged on since.

The nature of the opposition was based on two post-Civil War treaties which removed the Delaware from Kansas and settled tribal members on Cherokee lands. But according to the BIA, the Delaware Tribe preserved its autonomy by making two payments.

In a similar instance, the independent recognition of the Loyal Shawnee Tribe, whose members were also resettled in Oklahoma, was disputed by the Cherokee Nation, which wanted assurances that its 14-county jurisdiction would not be diminished. President Clinton in late 2000 signed a bill to recognize the Shawnees.

Get the Order:
Cherokee Nation v. DOI (7/23)

Relevant Links:
Delaware Tribe of Indians - http://www.delawaretribeofindians.nsn.us
Cherokee Nation - http://www.cherokee.org

Related Stories:
Okla. tribe seeks Cherokee independence (7/31)
Clinton signs a final Indian bill (12/29)