Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma City – Two small Oklahoma tribes have, in their own way, issued brand new versions of the Declaration of Independence.
As a result, the UKB continue a long journey that extends back into the mists of time, as measured in written accords and tradition. The UKB struggle for recognized federal status faced many obstacles, including passionate opposition from generations of leaders for the larger (and economically powerful) Cherokee Nation.
The past year, however, has brought a series of dramatic triumphs for the UKB, including U.S. Supreme Court ratification of a lower court decision affording them important sovereign rights. In truth, the UKB qualify as one of Oklahoma’s mid-size tribes in numbers and emerging impact.
Joe Bunch, the UKB chief who has guided the 14,000 member band to its new era of success, was adamant in a statement made and provided to reporters at last week’s ceremony. He said, “It is both an honor and privilege to be announcing the signing of this economic venture between the great state of Oklahoma and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.”
The NonDoc news website provided the most thorough “same-day” coverage of the day’s events. Editor Tres Savage captured the event, as Bunch reflected:
“We thank Gov. Kevin Stitt and his administration for this monumental day and for their leadership efforts in this compact. It is a grand day for Keetoowahs and Native American tribes all over the country. It is a day when one of their own partnered with Oklahoma in building a stronger economy through the avenues of retail, food and beverage, hotel, hospitality and casino operations, all by signing a Class III gaming compact with the state.”
Chief Bunch continued, “This compact also presents an opportunity for the UKB to move forward and begin increasing health, education and job opportunities for our tribal members and elders, as well as our surrounding communities.
“After all, we know if our communities are doing well, the state is also doing well. Thank you and God bless the UKB and the State of Oklahoma.”
The Kialegee Tribal Town is so “young” – in one sense of the word – that its independent website is still emerging . However, according to a sketch of history at he the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board, the “Kialegee are a daughter town of Tuckabatche. The tribe split off in early times during their residence in what are now the states of Alabama and Georgia. Thereafter, the Kialegee produced two daughter towns within the Creek Confederacy, Auchenauhatche and Hutchachuppe. In 1835, all four towns were removed to Indian Territory.
“When offered separate federal recognition in 1936, a few Creeks towns accepted including the Kialegee. After removal, the Kialegee Town were located south of present day Henryetta, Oklahoma. After the allotment of individual lands in 1899, many tribal members could be found farther west near Wetumka, Oklahoma where their headquarters are today. The Kialegee government held its first election in 1914, and a constitution and bylaws were established in 1941. Tribal membership in the town is matrilineal, meaning a person can become a member automatically if their mother is a member.”
Today, the Kialogee are an emerging factor in Oklahoma’s diverse Indian Country. Oklahoma Gov. Stitt explained his motivation for working with the state’s Indian Nations one by one over recent months. He said on July 2, “By negotiating with each individual Oklahoma tribe, the state is seeking to level the playing field for all tribes and working to ensure that no one is held back by its size or resources from competing and pursuing economic growth for its citizens.
“The Kialegee Tribal Town is pursuing a sound business plan for its first gaming location in Oklahoma with their compact commitment to partner with another tribe on this venture. They have been good faith partners in this process, and the State looks forward to supporting their efforts to strengthen opportunities for KTT citizens, to expand economic development in the region, and to generate new revenue for Oklahoma’s public education system.”
Earlier this spring, the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma forged their own independent steps toward gaming accords with the state government of Oklahoma.
In doing so, they went contrary to the preferences of the state’s largest tribes, including the Chickasaw, and the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) which consistently allies itself with Big Tribe wishes.
A state legislative lawsuit challenging Stitt’s authority to forge gaming compacts is pending before the state Supreme Court in Oklahoma City. Nonetheless, it is clear that a cluster of tribal nations are forging an independent path, and finding in the state’s chief executive a partner in negotiating over the future.
NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan has written frequently on Oklahoma’s Indian Country. He won recognition in Diversity news coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists, Oklahoma Pro Chapter, for his reports on the legendary Archie Hoffman’s efforts to regain Cheyenne and Arapaho lands at and around Fort Reno in Western Oklahoma.