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Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma Chairman John Berrey has submitted letters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in support of the tribe's application to place 160 acres east of Little Rock into federal trust and accusing Oaklawn Racing and Gaming of stirring opposition to the tribe's application.

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Quapaw Chairman John Berrey letters

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Berrey's letters follow two others sent to the bureau last month by Barry Hyde, the county judge of Pulaski County, and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola that presented arguments against the tribe's application.

In a letter dated last week and released Friday, Berrey restated the tribe has no plans to change the use of the land it already owns, and it has no plans to change the land's use to allow for a casino on the property.

Berrey wrote that Oaklawn officials have been behind concerns the tribe plans to build a casino.

"Recently, we became aware that the Oaklawn Park horse racing track located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been expending substantial resources to generate opposition to the application on the incorrect theory that if this land is taken into trust the Tribe could automatically develop a casino," Berrey wrote to Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Hyde and Stodola both said they had not been contacted by Oaklawn officials about the tribe's application. But Stodola said he believed an Oaklawn official had attended public city meetings where the tribe's application was discussed.

An Oaklawn official referred to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by a media liaison was unavailable for comment Friday.

The other letter was to Randall Trickey, realty officer in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Eastern Regional Office in Nashville, Tenn. That correspondence addressed specific points of disagreement with Pulaski County's argument that the tribe's application was incomplete.

Placing land into federal trust gives the federal government the title to the property but exempts the land from state and local taxes and most state and local laws. Berrey has said placing land into federal trust is strategic because it adds protections to property, including preventing alienation, which is the ability of a property or property rights to be sold or transferred.

"The Quapaw Tribe acquired the land at issue primarily because of its cultural and historical significance to our people. Not only does the tract contain Quapaw burial mounds, but it is within our original homeland in Arkansas," Berrey wrote to Washburn.

For the tribe to build a casino on the property, the property would have to be taken into trust and then the tribe would have to apply again to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a gaming license.

Without that license, under federal law, tribes can establish gambling on land acquired into federal trust after Oct. 17, 1988, only if that land is declared "last recognized reservation" land, meaning it was acquired in a recognized treaty and the tribe is present.

Presence includes the tribe's exercise of its own authority on the land and the presence of tribal members on the land. The land also must be in a state with no present-day reservation for that tribe as of Oct. 17, 1988.

The Quapaw tribe does not have tribal members living on the land in Pulaski County and has not been exercising tribal law there.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs official said last month that tribes rarely decide to build casinos without first indicating that they would do so on their trust applications, adding that such a change of course has not happened in recent memory in the Eastern Region overseen in Nashville, which includes 26 states east of the Missouri River.

A tribe would have to go through a separate, more scrutinized application process for a casino, which would include some public comment opportunity and consideration, the official said.

Local officials have suspected the tribe of wanting to build a casino, although no tribal officials have expressed any public interest in doing so.

The tribe acquired the land in two 80-acre purchases in 2012 and 2013 for a total of $1,372,000. The land -- the former Thibault plantation -- is home to tribal artifacts and graves, although most of the area is used for soybean farming.

The land is also home to the graves of former slaves, and the tribe has entered into a partnership with Preservation of African-American Cemeteries to protect the graves.

In Stodola's letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said the city could not support the tribe's application unless it volunteered the land for annexation into the city of Little Rock after being taken into trust.

Stodola wrote he was concerned about any "residential, multi-family, or commercial" use of the land, which is in close proximity to the city's industrial port just south of the Arkansas River on the city's east side.

The Little Rock port, established in 1959, is an $800 million industrial park home to dozens of businesses that employ about 3,500 people. It is set to expand with funds from a 0.5 percent sales tax approved by Little Rock voters in 2011.

The tribe's land lies in an area considered strategic for expansion of the port, sandwiched between vacant land owned by the port to the west and Welspun Tubular to the east. It also lies south of the rest of the port, with some noncity land in between.

While refraining from taking a position on the tribe's application, port officials have said the area wouldn't be conducive to the heavier traffic that many nonindustrial uses might bring.

Stodola also said the tribe's land would not be subject to eminent domain if it were annexed into the city after being placed into federal trust.

In Pulaski County's letter, Hyde argued the tribe's application was incomplete. He later said in an interview that he would still oppose a complete application because he doesn't want to lose county land.

Their respective letters were signed by only Hyde and Stodola, not county or city attorneys. Stodola said Friday that he wrote the five-page letter from the city himself; Hyde said senior staff attorney Adam Fogleman wrote the county's letter.

The county's response was generated after working with other county attorneys, an attorney from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office and an attorney from Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office, Hyde said.

"I was never even approached by anyone from Oaklawn," he said Friday.

A response from the governor's office to the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected later this month.

Hyde said he recognizes the tribe was unjustly removed from its native land in Arkansas in the 1800s and forced into Oklahoma.

"My way to remedy that past is to befriend them and work together," he said.

Berrey has said repeatedly that the tribe does not plan to build a casino but has not made any written agreements with local agencies to explicitly prohibit a casino or other uses in the future.

The Quapaw Tribe already operates two casinos in Oklahoma, along with childhood learning centers, a convenience store, a golf course, a tribal museum, a fitness center, a construction management team and counseling services.

Stodola said Friday that he, too, likely would be opposed to those kinds of land uses for the Pulaski County plot in question because they are incompatible with the industrial port.

Metro on 06/06/2015

Print Headline: Tribe pens support of land trust

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