Louis Post Dispatch-
August 10, 2000
ILLINOISANS SAY SUIT SEEKS THEIR LAND SO INDIANS CAN BUILD CASINO; MIAMI TRIBE INSISTS TREATIES, INJUSTICES
GIVE RIGHT TO PROPERTY
1846, the Miami Indian tribe was forced at gunpoint to flee their
upper Midwestern homelands for Kansas, only to be removed again about
10 years later to the northeastern corner of Oklahoma.
the tribe is trying to reclaim some of its ancestral territory in
Illinois -- possibly to build a casino -- in a lawsuit that seeks
to eject landowners and farmers, some of whom have lived there for
tribe filed the suit in federal court in East St. Louis in June accusing
15 Illinois landowners -- one for each county in dispute -- of "trespassing" on
Indian land. Invoking 200-year-old treaties and historical injustices
committed against American Indians, the suit pits tribal rights against
the property rights of current landholders.
the suit is unlikely to result in a mass turnover of land to the
tribe, the legal action has alarmed the people who live on the disputed
2.6 million acres in central and Southern Illinois, from Champaign
to Effingham. The shockwaves have already been felt in Washington,
where Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., has introduced legislation to
give the Illinois residents new legal tools -- or to strip the tribe
of its sovereignty, depending on whom you ask.
legal battle began in June, when the tribe, called the Miami Tribe
of Oklahoma, filed a 26-page complaint in federal court in East St.
Louis. The suit says the government violated two treaties, made with
the tribe in 1795 and 1805, when it sold the Illinois land to white
have one of the original contracts with America,
and it was never fulfilled," said George Tiger, a spokesman
for the tribe. "We have a treaty that says the land was never
was news to Rex Walden, a 98-year-old farmer who is named in the
suit. The tribe claims to own the 80 acres where he has lived for
old man's lived out there for 70 years, and the farm's been in the
family for 140," said Walden's daughter, Pauline Eaton, who
is serving as her father's spokeswoman in the suit. "He doesn't
understand, why now? If they wanted the land, why didn't they come
100 years ago?" said Eaton, who is 70 and lives in Mahomet,
and Clarence Borries were similarly surprised when the Miami claimed
title to about one third of their 200-acre farm in Teutopolis, where
they've raised corn and soybeans for five decades.
couldn't believe it," said Josephine Borries, 72. Like other
defendants, Borries said she believes the tribe is more interested
in building a casino than in recouping any farmland.
just a pressure thing to get the governor to give them a casino," she
said of the suit.
the Miami spokesman, denied that a casino is in the works. "The
ultimate goal is to get the land back - period, exclamation point," Tiger
said. He said the casino idea was "manufactured" by state
officials who are seeking to tar the tribe.
the tribe's lawyer, Thomas Osterholt of St. Louis, said a casino
is "one alternative" tribe members will look at for economic
said the tribe estimates that the current value of the land is $30
billion. If the tribe cannot recoup all of the land, gambling is
one of the only business ventures that would provide enough compensation,
said that in negotiations two years ago, Illinois officials raised
the possibility of a riverboat casino for the tribe, but the talks
ended in a stalemate. Gambling revenue is already a key source of
income for the Miami tribe, which has run a high-stakes bingo hall
in Oklahoma for two years and also has a factory that makes electronic
suit recalls a much different time in American Indian culture. "The
Miami Tribe lived, hunted, fished, foraged and farmed upon lands
in what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan," the
tribe says that in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and the Treaty
of Grouseland in 1805, the Miami ceded lands in Ohio and other states.
But it never gave up its claim to the 2.6 million acres in Illinois.
courts have been receptive to similar claims made by other tribes.
In Texas, a federal court ruled in June that white settlers had illegally
taken 2.8 million acres from the Alabama and Coushatta Indians. The
ruling could allow the tribe to recoup millions of dollars.
in New York, a jury recently awarded the Cayugas Indians $36.9 million
for land that the court said was illegally acquired by the state.
says that part of the reason Indian tribes are only now making such
land claims is that they've only recently been given the tools to
do so. One of the most important developments was a 1985 Supreme
Court decision that sided with the Oneida tribe in its claim for
270,000 acres of ancestral land in New York.
Broom, a Carbondale attorney hired to represent 14 of the defendants,
said that the Oneida suit involved different issues because that
tribe sued the state of New York; the Miami have sued individual
landowners. (The Illinois Farm Bureau and other groups have donated
funds to pay Broom's fees for his 14 clients, who do not have title
landowners may have gotten a boost this week, when the Illinois Attorney
General's office filed a motion to intervene in the case and said
the state will seek to have the suit dismissed.
addition, Sen. Fitzgerald introduced a bill last month that would
subject the tribe to certain state laws, such as time limits for
bringing land claims. But Tiger, the Miami spokesman, said Fitzgerald's
legislation attacks tribal sovereignty, and he's confident it won't
the meantime, the two sides appear to be headed for a lengthy legal
battle. A trial is set for June 18.
Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians,
said that such suits have often led to monetary settlements for the
tribes. The case is a way of getting the settlement process going,
the daughter of defendant Rex Walden, said the state and other defendants
should mount a vigorous battle, because she fears that a settlement
for the Miami tribe will just prompt other suits.
Borries, the Teutopolis resident, said the state should look for
ways - including giving the tribe a casino - to end the suit so she
and other residents have peace of mind. Borries said she couldn't
make "heads or tails" out of all the legalese and the treaties,
but she sounded sympathetic to the tribe's claims.
the ground wasn't free to be sold, if the government didn't have
title to it, how could they sell it?" she asked. "It's
the federal government that's at fault here."
Color map by the POST-DISPATCH - Land claimed by Miami Tribe
(c) 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch