The City Sentinel Staff Report
In response to Congressman Tom Cole’s introduction of H.R. 3091 on trial jurisdiction compacting for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (“CNO”) and Chickasaw Nation, Joe Bunch, Chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (“UKB”) has issued a statement provided to The City Sentinel, CapitolBeatOK.com and other news organizations.
Chief Bunch provides to the news media and to the public the following statement:
I strongly oppose Section 4 of the Cole bill entitled Reservation Integrity. This section gives the CNO exclusive jurisdiction over the 14-county Cherokee reservation in which the Assistant Secretary of the Interior has declared CNO and UKB successors in interest of the historical Cherokee Nation. That means we are equal in status as federally recognized Indian tribes sharing the Cherokee reservation.
We both have lands in trust within the reservation and we both have the sovereign right and ability to govern ourselves. Section 4 would give the CNO a veto over the UKB’s federally confirmed right to place lands in trust within the reservation. CNO has previously stated it would never consent to UKB placing additional lands in trust. This Section would violate the spirit of the Indian Reorganization Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating between Indian tribes.
The UKB has never given the CNO the ability to act on our behalf. The Cole bill states in Section 5 that it would not (1) waive the sovereign immunity of any tribe, or (2) expand, limit, modify, or otherwise affect the authority or right that a tribe possess under, or which is protected by, a treaty with the United States or other federal law. The UKB has rights under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act and a 1946 Act of Congress and federal corporate charter to, among other things, have land placed land in trust. This right would be destroyed by Section 4 of the Cole bill. Further, the UKB signed an 1828 treaty with the United States giving up our reservation in Arkansas in exchange for lands in what is now Oklahoma.
In sum, the UKB strongly opposes H.R. 3091, which does absolutely nothing to support clarity or consistency regarding the exercise of criminal jurisdiction and authority in Indian Country in Oklahoma. Instead, the bill incorrectly attributes exclusive jurisdictional control of the historic Cherokee reservation to the CNO. Further, the bill ignores the fact that the reservation is shared by the UKB. The UKB may only possess one trust parcel today but that will change over time and our predecessors settled in Northeastern Oklahoma well before other Cherokee people arrived here. Congress should not ignore that historical fact when considering such legislation.
The United States Congress has a duty to consult with Indian tribes before proposing legislation that would have an impact upon them. We were not consulted in any way regarding this legislation. No further action should be taken by Congress until full consultation is held with the UKB.
If passed as introduced, H.R. 3091 would mark a new era of termination. It would preempt the right of the UKB to exercise jurisdiction within the reservation that it shares with the CNO, in violation of general principles of Indian law, and it would absolutely terminate the right of the UKB to obtain trust land, a right that was ratified by Congress in 1999.
The leadership of the UKB have always expressed an interest in intergovernmental cooperation, and an interest in resolving differences with the CNO in a manner that respects our mutual sovereignty. To date, the CNO has not engaged in a constructive dialogue to resolve differences. The UKB leadership stands ready to do so, understanding that our sovereign rights must remain intact.
For legal questions please refer to UKB Attorney General Klint Cowan at (405) 232-0621. For general inquiries email [email protected].
Editor’s Note: For additional reading, search The City Sentinel website for past stories on the efforts of the UKB to see equitable treatment from federal officials, and for background of the tribe’s litigation to gain formal recognition of its sovereign rights, independent of rights for the CNO. The UKB website contains substantial information on the UKB efforts to serve members of the band: https://www.ukb-nsn.gov/. Information is also archived at this website: