Chicago Tribune - July 6, 2000


Author: Flynn McRoberts, Tribune Staff Writer.

Illinois wasn't even a state when the pact in question was signed. But the 1805 Treaty of Grouseland has come back to haunt it.

Citing the document its ancestors penned with the young United States of America, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit in federal court to recover 2.6 million acres of what they consider tribal land, a swath of east central Illinois stretching from Effingham north beyond Champaign.

In negotiations that recently broke down with the state, the tribe has made it clear what it might like to put on some of that property: a land-based casino.

The Miami tribe, headquartered in Miami, Okla., has only 2,250 remaining members. And the only gambling operation currently run by it is an off-track betting parlor in Oklahoma, according to attorneys for the tribe.

But tribal leaders say they are trying to reclaim land that the federal government gave their forebears long ago in return for the Miami giving up ancestral homelands east of Illinois.

"I have the solemn responsibility to protect the Miami Tribe members and its future generations, and to ensure the financial and cultural success of the tribe," Chief Floyd E. Leonard said in announcing the suit.

Given the financial boon that gambling has been to many formerly poverty-stricken tribes, Leonard added that "it is my hope, since the State of Illinois allows gaming, a possible solution to our land claim could be negotiated."

But the prospect of a land-based casino--not to mention that 2.6 million acres the tribe is eyeing--has state officials balking.

Explaining why negotiations sputtered, Dave Urbanek, Gov. George Ryan's press secretary, said: "We couldn't give them what they wanted. They have never made it a secret to anyone that their goal is a land-based casino in Illinois . . . (And) they have always used this lawsuit as a balance, as a chip, no pun intended."

Urbanek said Ryan "does not support an expansion of gaming beyond the riverboat gaming act." Besides, the spokesman added, "There's not one square inch of (reservation) land in Illinois."

The tribe says that is because the state ignored the treaties signed with the federal government.

Tom Osterholt Jr., an attorney for the tribe, said the lawsuit was mainly about regaining treaty land and not about gaming. But he said the fact that Illinois only allows riverboat gambling should not bar the tribe from potentially building a land-based casino.

"What federal law says is the tribe can only do the type of gambling that the state allows," Osterholt said, but it doesn't dictate whether that gambling is done on water or land.

The State of Illinois is not actually a defendant in the case; rather, the suit names owners of one parcel of real estate from each of the 15 counties involved.

Osterholt insisted the property owners listed as defendants were "randomly" selected. But Urbanek pointed out that several of the defendants are current or former county officials.

Copyright 2000, Chicago Tribune


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