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Oklahoma tribe drops out-of-state land claim

The Wyandotte Nation's controversial bid to claim 2,000 acres of private property in Kansas has ended now that the tribe has decided not to appeal.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia dismissed the case. He said the tribe, currently based in Oklahoma, waited too long to claim ownership of ancestral lands in Wyandotte County.

The tribe "has slept on its claims against the United States and therefore is barred from bringing its claims against private, third party landowners," Murguia concluded on July 14.

The tribe could have taken the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. But with the deadline approaching, the tribal council voted last week not to pursue the case.

"The lawsuit is over," David McCullough, an attorney for the tribe, told The Kansas City Star for a story published today.

McCullough told the paper that the tribe would consider other options, including claims against the federal government. The U.S. had been dropped as a party in the case.

The end of the dispute marks another major setback the tribe suffered this year. The lawsuit was seen as leverage for forcing officials in Wyandotte County to agree to the tribe's plans for a Class III casino.

The tribe was working towards agreements with local governments to settle the case. The deal fell apart when a landowner objected to the terms.

In the meantime, the tribe opened a small Class II facility on trust land in downtown Kansas City. But in March, attorneys with the National Indian Gaming Commission determined that the casino was in violation of federal law.

The decision prompted the state into action. A month later, state officials raided the tribe's facility, arresting employees and patrons and seizing about 150 electronic gaming machines.

The tribe protested the raid as an incursion on its sovereignty and filed another lawsuit in hopes of reopening the casino. But so far, the courts have refused to grant the request.

The Wyandotte Nation isn't the only Oklahoma tribe to claim out-of-state land. The Miami Nation, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, the Delaware Nation, the Delaware Tribe, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes are pursuing claims in other states. Some of the tribes say they will settle for gaming rights but none have been successful.

In 2001, the Miami Nation sued private landowners in Illinois but dropped the suit after running into local opposition. The tribe is seeking land in Kansas as well.

The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe was near a settlement with the state of New York. The deal would have involved a casino but the Cayuga Nation of New York objected to the return of their out-of-state relatives.

Bureau of Indian Affairs officials say they are concerned about the growing practice of seeking to settle land claims for gaming rights. But they have decided not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to the controversial debate.

"We ultimately determined that adopting a blanket policy would not be appropriate because each application is different and the situation of each tribe, with respect to the local community and the state in which it is located, is unique," Aurene Martin, the BIA's second-in-command, said at a House hearing last month. Martin, who has been handling gaming issues for the agency, is resigning next month.

Court Decision:
Wyandotte Nation v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County (July 14, 2004)

Relevant Documents:
NIGC: Legality of Gaming under the IGRA on the Shriner Tract owned by the Wyandotte Tribe (March 24, 2003) | BIA: Reconsideration on Wyandotte lands (June 12, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Wyandotte Nation -