Miami tribe lawsuit isn't about casinos

Author: ROB MARTINDALE; World Senior Writer

Tulsa World (OK)
February 9, 2001

Edition: Final Home Edition
Section: NEWS
Page: 10

land claims
Native Americans
Miami (Native American tribe)

Article Text:

The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma didn't file a federal lawsuit to reclaim 2.6 million acres in Illinois so it could build a casino, the tribe's chief spokesman said Thursday.

George Tiger, the Miami Tribe's public affairs director, said claims that a casino was the priority in the land lawsuit was a matter of Indian tribes nationally being linked to gambling.

The Miami Tribe has been ``stereotyped'' in its attempt to regain control of ancestral lands in Illinois, he s aid.

Tiger spoke Thursday at a Tulsa Country Club luncheon of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

He said a New York shopping mall developer, Thomas C. Wilmont Sr., is bankrolling the tribe's lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Ill.

Wilmont earlier said he has paid most of the tribe's legal fees as a business investment because of the potential land development, which could include a casino.

The Miami Tribe, based at Miami, Okla., has 2,200 members.

Tiger said the land was given to the Miamis through a federal treaty and trusts, and the tribe never ceded it away.

Later, he said, ``the government came in and sold it. They removed the Miami people from that area,'' first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma.

He said the Miami Tribe has ``a solid claim'' to the land, ``but the fact is that many people in Illinois . . . don't understand Indian people . . . they don't understand that tribes have viable governments.''

The tribe has been attacked from many corners in Illinois, including the governor's office.

A spokesman for the Illinois governor said Miami Chief Floyd Leonard has said he would consider settling the lawsuit for a gaming license.

``This proves what we've been saying all along, that casino gaming is the preferred end result of this assault on landowners in eastern Illinois,'' the governor's spokesman said.

As the tribe's public affairs director, Tiger said he goes to Illinois about three times a month ``to educate people about who we are'' and ``why this land claim is so valid.''

He must convince a wide range of public officials, ranging from a small town mayor to a congressman.

Jim Kingston, the mayor of Paxton, Ill., population 4,400, said the New York developer told him the Miamis want up to 1,000 acres, possibly for a casino.

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., said he is ``going to do everything in my power to make sure this land grab does not occur.''

Johnson said he had returned two $1,000 campaign donations to the Wilmont family.

Tiger said it was the Illinois governor's office that first brought up the matter of a casino.

``How about a casino? Would you be able to settle for a casino?'' was the inquiry from the governor's office, Tiger said.

The reaction from Chief Leonard, Tiger added, was that if that was ``one of the negotiation points, sure.''

``Well, from that day on,'' Tiger said, ``It's always: `Tribe wants casino in Illinois.' ''

He said the lawsuit was filed against the land owners because the state of Illinois didn't exist when the treaty was signed giving the Miamis the land.

The casino speculation started, Tiger said, ``when the governor and the state of Illinois used it as a public relations tool to say, `OK, here's some Indians. They want this land back and all they want is a casino,' which is the furthest from the truth. It's still our property.''

The tribe and its chief, Tiger said, have ``always said that negotiations are on the table. We are willing to negotiate . . . we are saying, `Let's sit down and talk about it.' '' Rob Martindale, World senior writer, can be reached at 581-8367 or via e- mail at

Copyright (c) 2001 Tulsa World. World Publishing Co.
Record Number: 0EA21E7C92359EDB


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