John L. Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, recently sent a letter to U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officials stating the tribe would be willing to sign an agreement that it will not build a casino on a 160-acre tract it owns in Pulaski County near Little Rock, Arkansas. The tribe has applied to the BIA to have the land taken into federal trust to protect it as a sacred site, “by virtue of its religious and cultural significance to the Quapaw Nation,” according to a tribal resolution.
Berrey wrote, “Although I do not believe it is necessary, the Quapaw tribe will provide further assurances that it will not seek to conduct gaming on the Thibault Road tracts, including entering into an appropriate intergovernmental agreement with the state. Such agreements have been deemed to be enforceable in other instances and to prevent the issuance of licenses for tribal casinos.” The tribe purchased the land in two, 80-acre deals in 2013 and 2014 for $1.4 million.
Governor Asa Hutchinson and four other Arkansas delegates also wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, requesting that the agency deny land-trust status to the Quapaw’s Arkansas tract. Hutchinson has questioned whether any Indians buried on the land actually were Quapaw. He recently said “the tribe does not offer definitive proof identifying the remains as that of the Quapaw people.” However, Berry noted substantial evidence identifies the graves as Quapaw and that Arkansas already accepts nearby archaeological sites as Quapaw heritage sites. The land near Little Rock was part of the Quapaw ancestral homeland before the tribe was expelled from the state nearly two centuries ago and forced to live in Oklahoma.
Berrey said Hutchinson appears to lack an understanding of the significance of the land to the tribe. “The Quapaw were known as the Arkansas until the United States purchased the Louisiana territory from France. It was only after the United States took control of the Louisiana territory that the Arkansa came to be known as the Quapaw. Arkansas is our homeland.” He added, “Everybody thinks the sky is falling, and in reality all we’re trying to do is protect our heritage.”
Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, who originally opposed the Quapaw’s BIA application, recently said the tribe’s willingness to sign an agreement banning a casino is “pretty significant.”
Other tribes are also seeking to stop a new Quapaw casino. In a motion filed July 10, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri are seeking to join a lawsuit filed in March by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in U.S. District Court against the National Indian Gaming Commission. The motion claims the NIGC was “arbitrary and capricious and erroneous” in its decision that would allow the Quapaw Tribe to expand its Downstream Casino in Oklahoma into Kansas—specifically onto a casino parking lot located just over the state line. Schmidt is asking for an injunction to block the Quapaw’s move.
The Iowa operates Casino White Cloud in White Cloud, and the Sac and Fox operate a casino in Powhattan. Both said competition from the expanded Downstream would hurt their operations. The tribes, which have agreements with Kansas to operate their casinos, claim the case could set a precedent if the Quapaws are allowed to expand its casino into Kansas, “opening the door to other tribally operated casinos that currently do not exist.”
The Iowa and the Sac and Fox tribes also said Quapaw-owned 124-acre parcel of land in Kansas is not “Indian lands” where tribes can operate casinos. In addition, the two tribes cited a lawsuit involving the Wyandotte Nation that declared a tribe is not “presently located” in a state unless it has a major governmental presence there. The Quapaw Tribe has stated in court filings it has a water system, wetlands sanctuary and an endangered species habitat in Kansas in addition to the Downstream parking lot.
Jennifer Rapp, a spokeswoman for Schmidt, said, “The state will continue to press its claims and welcomes the support of these Kansas tribes.” Federal attorneys have asked that Schmidt’s lawsuit be thrown out, since the Quapaw’s plans “are legally irrelevant” to provisions in the federal law that regulates gambling on Indian land.