With its would-be casino in limbo, a Creek tribal town has filed a federal lawsuit claiming it and three other tribes are entitled to equal legal authority over 11 eastern Oklahoma counties.
On August 17, attorneys for the Kialegee Tribal Town filed litigation with the District of Columbia District Court seeking an injunction against Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Michael Black and National Indian Gaming Commission chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Citing 18th and 19th century Creek treaty rights and the Creeks’ pre-removal organization, the Kialegee Tribal Town argues that it, along with the other two traditional Creek tribal towns with federal recognition, has jurisdiction over the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s recently reinstated reservation in eastern Oklahoma.
“As a Creek tribe, Kialegee is entitled to exercise all the rights guaranteed to and understood by Creek Indians by various treaties with the United States,” Kialegee Tribal Town attorney Dennis Whittlesey wrote.
“In other words, this…treaty-protected understanding of land ownership is that all land is owned by and between all Creeks, in common with one another. This understanding is relevant here, because it includes the principle that all Creek tribal entities share an undivided ownership of all Creek lands and consequently, joint jurisdiction over those lands.”
As per an August 8 decision from the 10th Circuit Court, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation includes all of Creek, Hughes, Okfuskee and Okmulgee counties, plus portions of Tulsa, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Seminole, Rogers and Wagoner counties.
Three of the state’s largest cities—Tulsa, Muskogee and Broken Arrow—are at least partially within that area, as is the Kialegee Tribal Town’s headquarters in Wetumka, Oklahoma. The ruling is currently under appeal from the state of Oklahoma.
Thursday’s lawsuit comes as the tribal town continues to a second attempt to launch a casino near one of Oklahoma’s largest cities.
On August 16, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse officers conducted a raid on the Embers Grille in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a Tulsa suburb. The restaurant and dance hall is located on an original Muscogee (Creek) allotment less than a mile from where the tribe attempted to build the Red Clay Casino in late 2011.
During Wednesday night’s raid, Muscogee (Creek) Lighthorse officers allegedly found about 100 electronic gaming machines, including 12 that were fully functional.
In June, the National Indian Gaming Commission denied the Kialegee Tribal Town a gaming permit for the property on the grounds that the allotment is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The allotment’s owner, Bim Steven Bruner, was arrested for operating an unlicensed gaming facility. He had an initial appearance in tribal court Thursday in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and has pleaded not guilty. A former member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council, he is currently out on a $2,500 bond with his formal arraignment scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on September 18.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has taken out an emergency temporary restraining order against both Bruner and the Kialegee Tribal Town to halt further development at the site.
“Mr. Bruner and others associated with the casino development have continued to disregard the nation’s laws and regulations by bringing unlicensed gaming machines and other gaming related equipment onto the site and moving forward with opening the facility, resulting in the actions taken by law enforcement this evening,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Kevin Dellinger said. “The fact that gaming machines and other gaming equipment were found on the premises makes it clear that all earlier statements that gaming was only being considered were false, and the intent of the parties involved has always been to open an unlicensed casino.”