Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette - July 18, 2000

State to back landowners against Indians
Illinois will seek to have tribe's lawsuit dismissed

Author: PAUL WOOD News-Gazette Staff Writer

Article Text:

CHARLESTON - Attorney General Jim Ryan will back 15 East Central Illinois landowners against an attempt by the Miami Indians to recover tribal lands.

Ryan's spokesmen were scheduled to tell landowners at a meeting Monday night in Charleston that the state will seek to have the lawsuit dismissed, the first such move by the state.

"The attorney general could take one of two actions: Seek to intervene or file an amicus (friend of the court) brief," said spokesman Dan Curry. "We've made the decision that the state is going to legally intervene: We'll be filing by the end of the month to dismiss the case."

Two state legislators from East Central Illinois asked Gov. George Ryan to help defend the landowners. State Sen. Judy Myers and state Rep. Bill Black, both Republicans from Danville, said the 15 landowners named in the federal lawsuit by the Miami Indians ought not be fighting the legal battle alone.

George Tiger, a leader of the Miami tribe in Oklahoma, said the tribe was not surprised.

"The legal team feels it is standard procedure in cases of this type," he said. "To a certain degree, it's been done under political pressure from their constituents. There's been a little heat on the state government, and this may be a way to show the state is doing something, even if it is ineffective."

The Miami Indians are attempting to reclaim 2.6 million acres in East Central Illinois by suing 15 property owners, one from each of the counties in the area.

The Indians base their claim to the Wabash Watershed on treaties that go back at least as far as 1805, before the tribe was forced off the land at gunpoint and moved to Oklahoma.

The claims are sizable, including 378,000 acres in Champaign County and 495,000 in Vermilion County, according to the suit.

The Miami also claim rights to land in Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Ford, Iroqus, Jasper, Livingston, Moultrie and Shelby counties. The Oklahoma-based tribe said it's worth $30 billion but indicated it may settle if Illinois lets the tribe open a casino here.

The landowners say they take the lawsuit seriously. In June, a federal court ruled white settlers wrongfully took 2.8 million acres from the Alabama and Coushatta Indians in what is now Texas. The ruling may entitle the tribe to recover millions of dollars for timber, oil, natural gas and land the tribe never got to sell.

It has happened before. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Oneida tribe, which claimed 270,000' acres in New York. The Oneida now operate a casino there.

About 2,100 Miami live on 130 acres in Oklahoma now, Tiger said, but once roamed widely.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette



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