COLUMBUS - The Eastern Shawnee's focus will shift to the federal government in the tribe's effort to bring an Indian casino to the state, but it will do so without a federal judge's endorsement of its historic claim to Ohio land.
U.S. District Court Judge James Carr in Toledo yesterday dismissed the Oklahoma-based tribe's two-year-old lawsuit, at the tribe's request, after it struck land purchase settlements with the city of Lima and private property owners.
But, as he had promised in April, the judge's order stressed that his approval of the settlements does not constitute federal court recognition of the tribe's aboriginal rights to the land. That legal issue never reached the trial stage.
"This is between the city of Lima and the tribe and nobody else," Attorney General Marc Dann said. "As it relates to the state, nothing is being settled. This is not recognition of land rights, which would move them a step toward being recognized by the [U.S.] Bureau of Indian Affairs to put land in trust.
"We will make sure that we assert ourselves at that level," he said.
"If we are going to have gambling, it will be done rationally, and the Legislature needs to be involved. We're not going to allow anyone to backdoor us."
Land ownership is the tribe's first step in a lengthy bureaucratic process to convince the federal government to place the land in trust as an official Eastern Shawnee reservation. That would then open the door for the tribe to seek federal gaming approval. If that were approved, the tribe would then have to negotiate regulation of that gaming with the state.
There are no federally recognized Indian lands in Ohio.
"This is a major milestone in our long effort to return to our homeland in Ohio," said the tribe's chief, Glenna Wallace. "Throughout this process, the Eastern Shawnee will continue to work with local governments, state officials, and the people of Ohio."
The Shawnee lived on, hunted, and fished the lands and waters of what is now Ohio. The tribe maintains it was forced off its land by the U.S. Army and through 150-year-old treaties that predated Ohio.
When first filed in June, 2005, the suit named more than 60 defendants, including the state of Ohio. The tribe sought outright ownership of 93,000 acres in western Ohio, and claimed hunting, fishing, and gathering rights for 11,215 square miles in central and southern Ohio.
After it had reached settlements with private property owners to buy land in Stark, Logan, Shelby, Butler, and Warren counties, Lima and Ohio were left as the sole defendants. The tribe has proposed a $300 million retail and entertainment development in Lima that would include a casino.
Earlier this month, Judge Carr refused to allow the tribe to expand the number of parties involved in the settlements before he issued his dismissal order.
Among them would have been a number of private property owners as well as the village of Botkins in Shelby County, which, like Lima, actively courted the tribe for economic development.
Judge Carr noted at the time that expanding the land settlements in the suit would have affected local governments that were not parties to the suit.
"Their present absence from the case leaves them without a voice," he wrote.
"The procedural manipulation that I perceive at work here creates its own prejudice."
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.