Principal Chief John Red Eagle confirmed Tuesday that the Nation will be appealing to the United States Supreme Court before Oct. 22 in it’s lawsuit against the Oklahoma state Tax Commission.
Hanging in the balance are three of the tribe’s Million Dollar Elm casinos located in Skiatook, Ponca City and north Tulsa. The casinos are in jeopardy of being closed because they are not on federal trust land, which is required by the National Indian Gaming Commission. However, two (Tulsa and Skiatook) of the three tribe’s land-into-trust applications have been filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the third (Ponca City) will be filed in September.
“I met with Larry Echohawk [DOI assistant secretary for Indian Affairs] yesterday and he is very positive about giving us high priority because of the economic impact it could have if those casinos are shut down,” Red Eagle said.
The tribe found itself in the situation when their nine-year-old case against the Oklahoma state Tax Commission, in which the tribe alleges the state of Oklahoma does not have the right to tax Osage tribal members who work and live on the Osage reservation, didn’t go in their favor. The tribe was denied a rehearing May 25 by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, forcing the tribe to either live with the decision or file an appeal to the Supreme Court. The tribe was granted an extension to Oct. 22 by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor July 14, since the tribe was going through runoff elections and new leadership would be deciding the tribe’s next move. The original deadline was Aug. 23.
The land-into-trust process is a difficult one and could take anywhere from six months to three years.
Change in counsel
Red Eagle has been principal chief for six days and in those six days he has had to make monumental decisions for the nation concerning the reservation status case.
One of the first actions Red Eagle took was to relieve the services of Norman-based attorney Gary Pitchlynn of Pitchlynn & Williams, PLLC, who was the lead counsel of the case under the Gray administration for nearly 10 years. However, under Pitchlynn’s recommendation, Red Eagle has agreed to replace him with Patricia Millet of Washington D.C.-based firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
“This is positive news . . . [we have found] someone very well known in the Supreme Court area of litigation and she comes very highly recommended,” Red Eagle said. “We are in contact with Millet and she’ll be taking us forward.”
Millet co-heads the firm’s Supreme Court practice and has argued 28 cases before the Supreme Court, according to the firm’s Web site. From August 1996 to September 2007, Millett served as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C. During that time she argued 25 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and she briefed more than 50 cases.
Red Eagle said the Osage Nation Congress will call a special session next week to appropriate $88,000 to get the case moving forward.
Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry
Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry sent a letter Monday to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in support of the Osage’s three casinos currently in jeopardy. Former Principal Chief Jim Gray and Pitchlynn met with Henry Aug. 3.
“It is my understanding that, due to recent rulings by the federal courts, there may be some uncertainty about the legal status of several of the Osage Nation gaming facilities that would be clarified if you were to take these lands into trust for the Osage Nation,” Henry wrote in the letter. “It is my hope that your office can assist the Osage Nation in completing the process of taking those properties into federal trust as promptly as possible in order to avoid any possibility of closure of those facilities.”
Henry, who has reached his term limit as the state’s governor, will soon be replaced by either Rep. Mary Fallin (R) or Lt. Gov. Jari Askins (D) on Nov. 2. When elected, Fallin or Askins will be the state’s first female governor. Askins attended Red Eagle’s Inauguration at the WahZhaZhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska Aug. 4.
“A closure, even if only temporary, would result in the unfortunate loss of many jobs and great hardship on many Oklahoma families,” Henry wrote in the letter to Salazar. “There can be no doubt that the success of our tribal economies has a significant impact on the health of our state economy.”
The tribe alleges that the Osage reservation boundaries were never disestablished and that what most Oklahomans recognize as Osage county is in fact the Osage reservation boundaries.
To view the letter to the DOI from Gov. Brad Henry, click here: Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry letter to DOI