Lima News, Saturday, June 3, 2006

Tribe seeks day in court

Many of the defendants sought the lawsuit's dismissal in separate motions, some arguing that the claim is too old, others that it's not old enough, and none with valid arguments, wrote Mason Morisset and Rob Roy Smith, attorneys for the tribe.

By JIM SABIN

   TOLEDO — The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma pleaded for its day in court in a 128-page filing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

The document was a response to various motions for dismissal and for judgment on the tribe's land claim that it filed last year. The tribe sued the state of Ohio and 60 other defendants, including government entities and individuals, over land it was forced to leave in the 1830s.

Many of the defendants sought the lawsuit's dismissal in separate motions, some arguing that the claim is too old, others that it's not old enough, and none with valid arguments, wrote Mason Morisset and Rob Roy Smith, attorneys for the tribe.

The tribe has said, both in court and in public statements, that it does not want to eject people from the land, but rather wants some form of compensation. Settlement talks with some of the governments in question, and with others not specifically named in the suit, have centered around getting land placed into federal trust for the tribe to potentially use for casinos and resorts.

Allen, Auglaize, Logan and Shelby counties are named in the suit, as well as Lima, Shawnee Township, Wapakoneta and other areas. The tribe’s attorneys said most of the motions for dismissal were based on alleged facts that should be debated in court, not in dismissal motions.

“Rather than address the Tribe’s claims on their merits, defendants misconstrue the Tribe’s amended complaint and misinterpret relevant federal Indian law to frame their arguments,” the attorneys wrote. “Defendants seem confused by the nature of this case. For instance, the State opines that the ‘Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, while federally recognized, has never been recognized as a tribe in the state of Ohio.’ There is no such thing as a tribe being recognized as to a particular state. A tribe is either federally recognized by the United States or it is not.”

The tribe repeated its claim that it never lawfully ceded its hunting and fishing rights to much of northern Ohio, and that it never lawfully surrendered the land it held title to. It pointed to a treaty ratified between the United States and the Shawnee Tribe in 1817 giving title to 10 different tribal members. When the tribe was forced to turn over land in another treaty in 1831, only two of those 10 signed it, the attorneys wrote.

The tribe balked at motions that included various land deeds that happened after 1831, saying they’re irrelevant.

Terry Casey, the tribe’s spokesman in Ohio, said the filing simply seeks the tribe’s right to a hearing in federal court.

“We want to have a hearing and let all the facts be put out there, and people can examine what’s true and what’s not true,” Casey said. “In essence, our attorney feels very confident, based on his 40 years of practicing law in this narrow specialty, that there’s real substance for the court to look at and evaluate. The other folks say it doesn’t even merit a hearing.”

Representatives of Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro’s office could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon. Attorney Marc Fishel, representing Allen County and others, also could not be reached for comment late Friday.