By Staff Writer
As the Kialegee tribe moves forward with plans for a new casino, questions begin to arise as to who has jurisdiction over the piece of property on which the Red Clay Casino is proposed to be built. Adding to an already complex situation, the corporate media is sending an erroneous message to the public that the Kialegee tribe is a component of the Muscogee Nation. But the politics of this controversy do involve the Muscogee government because the land in question is restricted Indian land owned by two citizens of the Muscogee Nation and not the Kialegee Tribal Town.
This political powder keg has been ready to go off since about July 2010, when Eagle Environmental Consulting, Inc. (EEC) sent a request for comment in a letter to local governments which included Muscogee Nation Principal Chief A.D. Ellis. According to the letter, EEC had “been retained by the Kialegee Tribal Town to prepare an environmental assessment for a proposed tribal gaming complex in Broken Arrow, Tulsa County, Oklahoma.” A sign was then posted by the Kialegee governmenton that particular piece of restricted land. The sign proclaimed that the Kialegee tribal government had jurisdiction and governmental control over the land.
On July 8, 2010, Principal Chief Ellis responded by sending correspondence to George Skibine in Washington D.C., who was the acting Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission at the time. Ellis’ communicated to Acting Chairman Skibine that the Kialegee tribe had instigated the environmental assessment for the proposed tribal gaming complex and that the proposed location for the tribal gaming site lies within the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation and is subject to Muscogee Law. Ellis went on to point out that the Muscogee Nation’s Gaming Code prohibits gaming operations on individually owned lands and that the Muscogee Nation’s Gaming Operations Authority Board has exclusive authority to operate gaming operations.
Within the territorial boundary in which the Muscogee Nation’s government can exercise its governmental functions, there are also three other federally recognized tribes within the same territorial boundary that have equal standing to do the same. This relationship is very similar to the Keetoowah and Cherokee in which multiple tribes share a common territorial boundary but separate jurisdictions.
These tribes, which include the Kialegee, Alabama-Quassarte, and Thlopthocco, were once part of the Creek Confederacy and all use the words “Tribal Town” in their officially recognized names. But they are separate distinct sovereign governments which are not under the jurisdiction of the Muscogee Nation. In fact, these “tribal towns” adopted separate Constitutional governments, received there federal recognition in the 1930’s & 40’s and have been federally recognized almost four decades longer than the current Muscogee Nation.
In the letter to Skibine, Principal Chief Ellis remarked that “the Kialegee Tribal Town has no land base and consists entirely of citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.” While it is true that the Kialegee tribe as a whole or government does not have any land authorized for gaming, it is believed that there are individual Kialegee tribal members that may still have restricted lands inside the same territorial boundaries that could theoretically be used for gaming purposes.
By stating that the Kialegee tribe is made up entirely of Muscogee citizens, Ellis purportedly admitted to knowing that there are a large number of Muscogee citizens that are dually enrolled with another federally recognized tribe. Ellis’ knowledge of these Muscogee citizens having dual enrollment could be construed as a violation of his oath of office since it is a direct violation of the Muscogee Constitutional citizenship criteria to be enrolled in another tribe at the same time as being enrolled with the Muscogee Nation.
Ellis concluded his letter by saying “I am requesting that the NIGC do everything within its power to stop any encroachment of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s jurisdiction and to keep the Nation advised of any further attempts on our authority.” Ironically, it is Ellis’ duty as the Principal Chief to uphold the Gaming Code of the Muscogee Nation which prohibits gaming operations on individually owned land as Ellis himself previously stated.
For now, most opponents of the Kialegee’s planned casino, including the Ellis administration, have disregarded the Muscogee Nation’s critical role in this matter by turning to Federal agencies like the NIGC to find a solution. As a sovereign nation, the Muscogee Nation has an obligation to exercise its sovereignty and assert jurisdiction over this land issue. Otherwise, the Creeks may be weakening their own sovereign powers due to a lack of leadership or absent-minded internal politics. After all, sovereignty isn’t something that only rhetoric can preserve. Sovereignty has to be exercised and defended through action.