Tribe files suit in effort for land
The tribe's lawyer is hoping for a negotiated settlement with the state.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- The Eastern Shawnee Tribe, which is trying to establish casinos in Ohio including Lordstown, is suing the state, claiming ancestral and other rights on nearly 100,000 acres in western Ohio and hunting and fishing rights in more than 11,000 square miles in south-central Ohio.
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Toledo, identifies 61 governmental officials and bodies as defendants including Gov. Bob Taft, 38 boards of county commissioners and six cities or villages.
The suit seeks a court declaration that the Eastern Shawnees hold title to about 94,500 acres near Lima and Wapakoneta and 640 acres near Bellefontaine.
The suit also seeks court recognition of tribal hunting-and-fishing rights to 11,315 square miles in all or part of 36 counties stretching from Union County in the north to Meigs and Athens counties in the east, south to the state line and west to Hamilton County.
The suit also seeks damages from the state including taxes, rents and profits derived from the contested lands as well as damages arising from what the suit calls "unlawful deprivation" of the tribe's right to hunt, fish and gather on the alleged hunting grounds and attorneys fees.
Tribe attorney Mason D. Morrisset of Seattle said the tribe would prefer a negotiated settlement that would allow them a physical presence in the state and also to ultimately allow them to develop casinos.
No state response
The tribe has attempted to meet with state officials to talk about its claims but has so far received no response, according to a letter sent Monday from Eastern Shawnee Chief Charles D. Enyart to Taft and Attorney General Jim Petro.
"We regret that we are left with no other recourse but to take this action," the Shawnees' letter said.
The Oklahoma-based Eastern Shawnee has already unveiled potential casino-resort projects in Lordstown and Lorain in Northeast Ohio, Monroe near Cincinnati and Botkins in west-central Ohio.
But many state officials, including Taft, Auditor Betty D. Montgomery, Petro and Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell -- all Republicans -- oppose the expansion of legalized gambling.
According to the lawsuit, the Eastern Shawnees originally owned, occupied and controlled vast land in Ohio from the middle of the 17th century until they were forcibly removed in the middle of the 19th century and relocated to reservations first in Ohio and then later in Missouri and Oklahoma.
The lawsuit says there were as many as 27 established Shawnee villages from 1731 to 1786 in western and northwestern Ohio.
According to the suit, the Shawnees are claiming unlawful cession and wrongful possession of the roughly 94,500-acre Hog Creek and Wapaghkonetta reservations near present day Lima and Wapakoneta.
The suit says the Shawnees also claim unlawful conveyance and wrongful possession of 640 acres on the banks of the Great Miami River near Bellefontaine.
At least one proponent of the proposed tribal casino in Lordstown said the Shawnee casino could bring great economic benefit to the Mahoning Valley village.
"Financially, it would provide great security for us," Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee said.
The village council has OK'd an intergovernmental agreement with the tribe that would share some electronic gaming revenues, plus the village income tax would apply to nontribal employees, Chaffee said.