Oklahoma tribe United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians is now one step closer to reopening and rebuilding their abandoned casino in Tahlequah after a favorable court decision, local media reports. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled “moot” a dispute between the UKB, Cherokee Nation, and the U.S. Department of Interior.
The news was delivered to UKB’s Tribal Council by chief Joe Bunch in a meeting on May 7. “With that, they issued instructions to lower courts to dismiss the case,” he told tribal members, according to Tahlequah Daily Press. “With that, we can get our application to 2.63 acres of land in trust and finalize that.”
An Interior Department decision to allocate the land for the UKB’s gaming operations led the Cherokee Nation to sue the United Keetoowah Band in 2013, which had built a casino on the lot in 1986, located adjacent to the Walmart in Tahlequah. But the new ruling moves the UKB one step closer to rebuilding and reopening the venue, which is currently abandoned.
“It is important to note that this decision hampers the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s attempt in denying the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians sovereignty and the ability to govern ourselves,” Bunch further said during the May 7 meeting, as reported by the cited source.
The federally recognized tribe, which has historic ties to the Cherokee Nation, operated the casino in Tahlequah for 27 years until 2013, when the legal fight with the Cherokee Indians began.
In June 2020, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians signed a Class III gaming compact with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, which was described by UKB leaders as “a monumental day” and a step toward “building a strong economy” for the community. However, the compact did not permit casino operations at the Tahlequah casino given the ongoing disputes.
“We have certain rights as well,” Bunch said last year, when he reaffirmed the tribe would still pursue gaming operations in Tahlequah. “We are a successor in interest to the historic Cherokee Nation, and we believe we have equal powers and authority. It’s unfortunate that people can’t see that – that there are two federally recognized tribes in town.”