Tribe Lays Claim to Northern Indiana Land

Associated Press
June 18, 2002

Miamis seeking to build casino in state say 1826 treaty gave them title to 5 counties.

GARY, Ind. — The Miami Nation of Oklahoma, negotiating to open a land-based casino in northwestern Indiana, is claiming it has legal title to land in five Indiana counties.

In an April letter to Gary Mayor Scott King, the Indianapolis law firm of O’Bryan, Brazill & Drics claimed the Miamis own 100 percent of the land in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and St. Joseph counties.

The lawyers cited the treaty of Oct. 23, 1826, among several others, to show the Miami tribe had ceded “vast amounts of its land in Indiana that are south of the Wabash River.”

James Dittoe, the tribe’s public affairs representative, reasserted that under the treaty the Miamis, gave up just a slice of the Indiana land north of the Wabash. The river stretches from south of Fort Wayne through Lafayette to Terre Haute.

Dittoe said the tribe would provide more information in July.

Helen Tanner, editor of the “Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History” and a witness for the state of Illinois in previous Miami of Oklahoma land litigation, said she was skeptical of the reasons for the tribe’s Indiana claims.

“It’s the lawyers for companies that want to make money out of casinos that are using the Indians to get casinos they could not otherwise get,” she said.

Dittoe said the tribe has received help in hiring its lawyers from developers interested in casinos. But he said the tribe was not being used and was simply attempting to launch an economic development that will be beneficial for the tribe, its backers and the people of Indiana.

William Thompson, who has written books on gambling and on Indian land claims, sees it differently.

“It’s just a money grab. These tribes weren’t asking for this until gambling,” said Thompson, a professor of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Thompson said that of 300 Indian casinos, all but about three are on long-established Indian reservations. The exceptions, he said, involved tribes with other reservation land in the state where they established casinos.

For the Miamis of Oklahoma to be pushing for a reservation in Indiana is a stretch, Thompson said.

If a casino precedent is established with the Miamis, he predicted, “every tribe who has ever passed through the state will want a piece of the state. All you have to have is a governor who is giving away the shop.”

Congress in 1988 began requiring tribes to enter into a compact on gambling with the state where the reservation is located. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that Congress did not have the authority to force states to negotiate.

Katheryn Rand, co-director of the Tribal Gaming Law and Policy Research Institute at the University of North Dakota Law School, said many tribes seeking casinos were beginning to emphasize the shared benefits, that casinos are “not just in their interest, but provide economic development for the state.”

Like the Miami Nation of Oklahoma, some tribes have bolstered their arguments with suggestions that they have viable claims to land in case the state is not willing to negotiate a casino compact, Rand said.

Group Forms to Fight Tribal Casino

By Matthew S. Galbraith, Tribune Staff Writer

NORTH LIBERTY — If local residents don’t want a tribal casino in Liberty Township, now’s the time to take a stand.

That message was delivered Thursday night at a community meeting called as a result of recent property purchases in the North Liberty area by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

The meeting was organized by a newly formed opposition group called Reservation Equals a Casino Tomorrow, or REACT. It drew a crowd of about 165 to the North Liberty Church of Christ.

While the band has stated an intent to develop a traditional reservation — one without a casino — those in attendance were reminded of what was said in 1997.

That’s when tribal leaders came to town shopping for a northern Indiana casino site.

“We have to keep that in the back of our minds,” said Tim Van Overberghe, town council president and emcee of the meeting.

Judging by the turnout, that’s been on the minds of many local residents since learning the Dowagiac-based Pokagons had purchased nearly 1,300 acres in the vicinity of New Road in Liberty Township.

George and Wilda Henry, residents of New Road, said they’re opposed to a casino but could go along with the development of housing and other tribal services of a traditional reservation site.

After the meeting, when asked if she thought the band’s plans could change, Mrs. Henry said “the chance is always there.”

The Pokagons have acquired nearly 5,000 acres near Dowagiac, Hartford, New Buffalo and now North Liberty. They have proposed a casino resort in New Buffalo Township to fund tribal restoration.

In response to a news report of the local purchases, a tribal spokesman said a land-in-trust application for the North Liberty site would not specify casino development.

But the speakers assembled by REACT said that would not prevent the tribe from changing its mind later and that the Pokagons lacked credibility based on past promises made about casino plans.

Mike Hosinski, of the New Buffalo-based Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos, said the Pokagons pledged not to pursue gaming when seeking help for federal recognition from the area’s two U.S. representatives, Tim Roemer and Fred Upton.

Soon after gaining sovereignty, he added, they signed a casino management contract and were on record until recently as wanting to build casinos in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana.

“You have to look at the credibility issue here. So far, no promises have been kept,” he said.

TOMAC has warded off a casino in New Buffalo with lawsuits challenging the band’s gaming compact in Michigan and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ approval of a land-in-trust application.

John Wolf, state director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said the Pokagons are back in North Liberty a second time after gaming pursuits in Elkhart County, South Bend, Lakeville, LaPaz and Plymouth.

“This is an ongoing battle,” said Wolf, not only with tribal gaming interests but with the Indiana General Assembly’s consideration of a bill that would legalize dockside gambling on riverboats.

Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon has repeated that he would not negotiate a gaming compact with the Pokagons, he added, but that could change with a new governor.

Van Overberghe said to “stop a casino before it starts,” residents should let their elected representative know where they stand.