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Ohio is right to fight suit filed by Eastern Shawnees



Published: Thu, June 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



If members of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe thought that filing an "ancestral lands" lawsuit against Ohio was going to intimidate Ohio officials into negotiating an agreement to allow Indian casinos in the state, they were wrong.

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma filed suit in U.S. District Court in Toledo naming 61 governmental officials and bodies as defendants, including Gov. Bob Taft, 38 boards of county commissioners and six cities or villages.

The suit seeks title to about 94,500 acres near Lima and Wapakoneta and 640 acres near Bellefontaine and tribal hunting-and-fishing rights to 11,315 square miles in 36 of the state's 88 counties. It also seeks unspecified financial compensation for "unlawful deprivation" of the tribe's rights to those lands.

The suit has an enormous nuisance value, since none of the defendants can afford to ignore being named in a federal lawsuit.

Hint at settlement

Ah, but tribe attorney Mason D. Morrisset of Seattle hinted that all the unpleasantness of the lawsuit could go away if the state would roll over and play dead for the tribe. The Shawnees, Morrisset said, would prefer a negotiated settlement that would allow them a physical presence in the state and ultimately allow them to develop casinos.

The tribe got its answer to that suggestion from state Atty. Gen. Jim Petro, who pointed out Wednesday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York has overturned a $247 million award to Indian tribes that claimed the state of New York had taken land from them 200 years ago.

The appeals court, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case, stated that & quot;the distance from 1805 to the present day, the long delay in seeking equitable relief against New York or its local units, and economic development ... spanning several generations & quot; meant the Oneida Indian Nation could not succeed in its case and could not & quot;unilaterally revive its ancient sovereignty. & quot;

& quot;This decision is important to Ohioans because it supports our point that the Eastern Shawnee have no legal claim to lands in our state, & quot; said Petro.

We agree with the court ruling.

Impossible task

Attempting to determine the legitimacy of most grievances that date back centuries would tax the abilities of any court; assigning dollar amounts to those grievances is an impossible task.

Using a lawsuit based on claims shrouded by antiquity to attempt to pressure the state into granting a casino license deserves the response Petro has given the Shawnees: See you in court.

In the meantime, though, even with the attorney general acting as lead counsel for the state, county prosecutors and law directors for the various counties and municipalities named in the suit are going to have to expend their resources preparing for court.

We have to wonder how those communities that are courting Indian tribes in hopes of landing a casino would feel if they were named in a lawsuit that was used as little more than a bargaining chip. Do they really want to encourage the use of such tactics against their governmental brethren?




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