Do Indians own Massillon?
By R.J. VILLELLA

Robert.Villella@IndeOnline.com
The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma is playing its trump card with
Ohio lawmakers in the battle to bring resorts and casino gambling to the state.

The tribe is laying claim to vast tracts of land – a move that could tie up the deeds of thousands of land owners in the state and make selling or refinancing property a nightmare.

No court papers have been filed yet, but tribal chief Charles Enyart sent a letter to Attorney General Jim Petro last week requesting a meeting at the end of this month and laying the groundwork for future legal action.

In his letter, Enyart said he hopes a settlement can be reached without litigation. The tribe doesn’t want to take land from any Ohioans, the chief stated, but wants to work with the state and local communities to return to their homeland.

Tribal representative Terry Casey said it is a successful strategy, which has worked well in other states. Those governments finally relented after getting pressure from land owners and home owners, he explained.

Mason Morisset, one of the attorneys representing the Shawnee tribe, is one of the best in the country at this type of litigation, Casey said.

“He’s one of the top legal experts,” he noted.

Morisset attached the main points of his argument in a 14-page document with Enyart’s letter requesting a meeting.

Casey noted the Tuscarawas River was the western most boundary of a young United States in 1795, with Indian land beginning on the western bank. The 350-acre former Republic Steel site lies on the western bank on the Tusc, just off Oberlin Road Southwest.

The land on which the steel plant once stood is one of the sites under consideration in Stark County for a resort casino.

“We like it as one of the sites we are considering because it is on the Tusc,” Casey said, noting the area was once part of the vast hunting and fishing lands the tribe once held.

In the documents filed with Petro, the Shawnee detail their occupation of the Ohio Valley as early as 1660 and the push that eventually sent them westward. The Shawnee established 27 villages in Ohio from 1731 to 1786 and controlled three large tracts of the state for hunting grounds, according to the documents.

Despite U.S. Army raids and encroachment by the settlers, Morisset states in the document, the Shawnee thrived in Ohio from the 17th century until they were force to leave the state in the 19th century.

The tribe was forced to move within Ohio first, then to Missouri and finally to a reservation in Oklahoma.

The tribe has named four specific areas in Ohio, but also could lay claim to hunting land that includes this area.

The Shawnee used and occupied vast hunting grounds in three general areas – the Muskingum Valley, which the Tuscarawas is part of, to the Ohio River; land east of the Little Miami to the Hocking River and the land between the Little Miami and the Great Miami rivers; and a tract of land stretching from Little Miami to the Mad River.

The Treaty of Greenville, Morisset states, allows the tribe the right to use these lands to the present day.

“There is no question the Shawnee were violently and illegally dispossessed of their lands, forced onto reservations far away from their aboriginal homeland and denied fair and just compensation for the unlawful taking of their lands,” Morisset wrote in his letter to Petro. “The Eastern Shawnee people have suffered indisputable injustice concerning their lands and rights in what is now the state of Ohio. The time to make the Shawnee whole has come.”

Steve DiPietro, one of owners of the Republic site, noted the strategy the tribe is using has been successful in other states.

A tribe in New York, for example, claim about half the state,” he said. “Home owners put pressure on the politicians to settle it so their titles wouldn’t be tied up.

“This claim will make it much easier for Gov. Bob Taft and Jim Petro to enter into a compact with the Indians.”