“Tribal lawyer Mason D. Morisset of Seattle, Wash., said the aboriginal hunting and gathering claim could ultimately lead to new uses for the 11,000 square miles of land - from casinos to simply a museum honoring the Shawnee.”
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
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Eastern Shawnee suit claims Ohio land rights
Okla. tribe has been negotiating for casinos

By Jon Craig
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - The Eastern Shawnee tribe from Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit in Toledo Monday claiming ownership rights to land in three western Ohio counties as well as "hunting, fishing and gathering" rights in 33 other counties - including all of Clermont County, most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren counties.
   
Tribal lawyer Mason D. Morisset of Seattle, Wash., said the aboriginal hunting and gathering claim could ultimately lead to new uses for the 11,000 square miles of land - from casinos to simply a museum honoring the Shawnee. Or it could simply yield surprising guests in local back yards.

"All of Indian Hill would be part of the area where hunting, fishing and gathering could take place," said Terry Casey, a Columbus lobbyist hired by the Indian tribe. "I gather most people would not want that on their private property."

At a news conference in Columbus, Morisset said the land had been taken violently from the tribe when it was driven out of Ohio by soldiers and settlers.
Various treaties also gave the tribe continued hunting and fishing rights, he said. If the state does not agree to give any land back, he said, the tribe is asking for an acceptable financial settlement, which he said could be "astronomical."  
"We've asked for an accounting,'' he said."We don't know the numbers, but they are huge. ... The tribe is always open to settlement."

The Eastern Shawnee previously announced plans to build casino resorts in Monroe as well as Logan, Shelby, Mahoning, Stark and Wayne counties. "It might lead to gambling," Casey said. "The question is how directly and how quickly."

"The Eastern Shawnee want to return to Ohio," Morisset said. "The Eastern Shawnee came from here." The Shawnee had 27 Ohio villages between 1731 and 1786, according to Morisset. They used vast hunting grounds in the Muskingum Valley and between the Great and Little Miami rivers. He said his research will prove the Shawnee were illegally forced onto reservations far from their aboriginal homeland and denied fair compensation.

The Shawnee are eyeing a possible casino in Monroe, but they made no claim to that land in Monday's suit. The Eastern Shawnee tribe has an option to buy 150 acres in Monroe from Murray Guttman and a limited partnership called Corridor 75 Park.
  
Earlier this year, Monroe passed legislation to enter into a revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe. Local voters will be asked to approve that agreement on a Nov. 8 ballot.
  
Morisset, who says he has won dozens of similar land claims nationwide, estimated that there have been 200 successfully argued land claims by various Indian tribes.
   
Morisset was joined by Eastern Shawnee Tribe Chief Charles Enyart of Oklahoma in saying they would rather settle with the state than pursue litigation. But they said Attorney General Jim Petro has failed to respond to their requests for a meeting. If the state doesn't negotiate, Morisset said, a court victory "might be highly disruptive of the current owners."

In a prepared statement, Petro said, "While we have not seen the complaint, we will continue to vigorously defend the state and laws crafted by the state which do not allow for Class III casino gambling.

"Since we do not believe that the Eastern Shawnee are entitled to any land in Ohio, whether state owned or not, we do not see any point to meeting with them. If this lawsuit is an effort to further expand gambling in the state, I will do everything I can to stop it."
The 2,300-member Eastern Shawnee have been federally recognized since 1937 and operate the Bordertown Bingo Hall & Casino in Seneca, Mo. In May, Enyart sent a letter to Petro outlining the claims, saying, "The time to make the Shawnee whole has come."
  
Morisset said the
Shawnee "don't want to go moving into someone's farm, even though it might be on an Interstate exchange that would be very nice for a casino. (They want) to go where they are welcome and where they can be helpful to a local community."
Enyart said he was disappointed the state ignored letters from the tribe: "Such discourteous treatment harkens to an earlier era in this nation's history which we had believed to have long since yielded to a more enlightened course of dealings between tribes and state governments."

Earlier this month, Petro turned down a separate claim from the Ottawa Indians of Oklahoma. The tribe argued that it was entitled to 350 acres of North Bass Island in Lake Erie. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources owns much of the island, less than 20 miles from Port Clinton. In January, the Ottawa tribe told Petro that it wanted the land for hunting and fishing.
   
"The tribe is pretty much set on the view, as am I, that they should have the same rights as any other Indian tribe in the country," Morisset said.
"Which means that if you end up with tribal land, you can do what tribes can do. One of the things they can do is gaming."
    
Activist and anti-gaming campaigner Phil Burress said he doesn't buy the notion that the tribe merely wants to fish, hunt and gather in
Butler and adjoining counties.
Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said: "It's all about money. Why don't they just claim the whole state?"



E-mail jcraig@enquirer.com


2005, The Enquirer