Appeals court rules against Cherokee Nation in fight with smaller tribe

In a surprise decision on Thursday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned an Oklahoma federal judge’s decision that was in favor of the Cherokee Nation in a fight with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.

The appeals court vacated the lower court decision and ruled in support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the United Keetoowah Band.  The ruling concerned the United Keetoowah Band’s move in 2000 to develop a 76-acre parcel of land near Tahlequah for a tribal and cultural center.

The land sits entirely in the boundaries of the former reservation of the Cherokee Nation which found the United Band’s attempts until the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the application. The Cherokee Nation filed suit and a federal judge ruled the BIA’s decision to take the parcent into trust was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

But the 10th Circuit held that the Secretary of the Interior had authority to take the land into trust under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. The court ruled the BIA was not required to consider whether the United Keetoowah Band met the definition of “Indian”and the BIA was not required t o get the Cherokee Nation’s consent before putting the land into trust.