Published on November 28, 2012 by Amy
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ or Anigiduwagi Anitsalagi, abbreviated UKB) is a federally recognized tribe of Cherokee Indians headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. According to the UKB website, its members are mostly descendants of “Old Settlers”, Cherokee who migrated to Arkansas and Oklahoma about 1817, before the forced relocation of Cherokee from the Southeast in the 1830s under the Indian Removal Act. Many of its members are traditionalists and Baptists.
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Today the UKB has over 14,300 members, with 13,300 living within the state of Oklahoma. Their elected Chief is George G. Wickliffe, serving a four-year term. Charles Locust is the Assistant Chief. Tim Goodvoice is their executive director of tribal operations.
The tribe owns and operates Keetoowah Construction in Tahlequah, and the Keetoowah Treatment Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have an arts and crafts gallery, showcasing members’ work. They run the Keetoowah Cherokee Casino, with over 500 gaming machines, in Tahlequah. The UKB issue their own tribal vehicle tags. Their estimated annual economic impact is $267 million. They host an annual homecoming festival over the first weekend of October.
The word Keetoowah (Kituwa) is the name of an ancient Cherokee mother town and earthwork mound in the eastern homeland of the Cherokee. Kituwah also is considered to be the original name of the Cherokee people.
According to the UKB website, its members are composed primarily of the descendants of the “Old Settlers,” Cherokee who settled in present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma around 1817, before the bulk of Cherokee were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory in the 1838 Trail of Tears, as well as Cherokees who walked the Trail of Tears.
By the 1880s all Cherokee people faced increased assimilation efforts by the US government. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cherokee and other Native American children were sent to Indian boarding schools away from home for their education: they were expected to speak only English, were generally prohibited from speaking their own languages, and were expected to adopt Christianity rather than practice native spirituality. The US federal government unilaterally closed and seized Cherokee and other Native American governmental and public institutions through the 1898 Curtis Act, the Dawes Act and the 1906 Five Civilized Tribes Act, by which they broke up communal tribal holdings and allotted plots of land to individual households.
The Dawes Commission was tasked to forced assimilation and break up tribal governments by instilling the concept of land ownership with individual members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The commission divided large sections of land into tribal allotments in an effort to eliminate the traditional governments of the Cherokee, which at that time were based on a communal form of government with the lands being controlled by the tribal government. The US government appointed Cherokee chiefs to administer tribal lands and holdings.
Under the Curtis Act of 1898, the government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved in 1906, in spite of the resistance of many of its members. The only remnant left was the office of the Principal Chief, held by William Charles Rogers, who had earlier been deposed by the National Council in 1905 for cooperating on the tribe’s dissolution and replaced with Frank J. Boudinot (who was also the leader of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society); Rogers was re-imposed upon the Cherokee Nation by the federal government the next year in order to carry out land sales and held office until 1914, after which the position was dormant.
The Indian Reorganization Act (1934) and Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA, 1936) were passed in the 1930s, under the Indian New Deal to facilitate tribes reorganizing their governments. Many of the more traditional members of the former Cherokee Nation began to organize under their terms. In the meantime, the President of the United States started Principal Chiefs for the Cherokee.
The UKB was approved in 1950 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Early elected leaders of the UKB were Levi Gritts, followed by John Hitcher and the Reverend Jim Pickup, who served in the post-World War II era.
The UKB was the federally recognized organization by which all the Cherokee people received federal assistance and were dealt with on federal programs. The UKB was able to secure federal funds for the Cherokee Nation Complex, which today houses the Cherokee Nation government. The UKB also started the Cherokee National Holiday, in conjunction with the Principal Chief’s office. The Cherokee Nation Housing Authority was begun using UKB’s federal status.
After the Cherokee Nation received approval of their constitution in 1975, their relationship with the UKB soured. They evicted the UKB from the offices at the tribal complex in Tahlequah.
The Wilma Mankiller and Chad “Corntassel” Smith administrations have had many conflicts with UKB leadership. Smith was a member of the UKB, but due to these issues, the tribe revoked his membership in 2005.
The United Keetoowah Band maintains a one-quarter-blood requirement for members. The United Keetoowah Band requires all members to have verifiable Cherokee descent either from a person or people on the Dawes Roll or the UKB Base Roll of 1949.
The UKB, beginning in the 1970s, gave some people honorary associate members, to recognize their services to the nation. Such memberships did not entitle the persons to voting or any other tribal rights, and had nothing to do with claims of Cherokee ancestry. Associate memberships were given in honorary appreciation to several people, but the tribe ended this practice in 1994. While some such recipients were given a tribal enrollment card with a number, they were never considered official members of the tribe, and did not receive tribal benefits. They no longer appear on official tribal rolls. Former President Bill Clinton is a notable associate member.
Ward Churchill, a former Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, has long claimed to be of Indian descent.” In 1992, Churchill wrote elsewhere that he is one-eighth Creek and one-sixteenth Cherokee. He was granted honorary associate membership in the UKB. His public statements that he was a member of the UKB created controversy, because Churchill failed to distinguish tribal enrollment from honorary associate membership. He has made a career in writing and speaking about issues related to Native Americans, and has contended that he has varying amounts of Indian ancestry. During an intense period of controversy, news organizations were unable to find any evidence of any Indian ancestry.
Churchill does not possess an issued Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB); he is not eligible for any federal benefits reserved for Native Americans. The UKB stated in 2005 that he is not eligible for official membership in the tribe because he cannot satisfy the blood quantum requirement.
The State of Oklahoma sued the UKB in federal court for operating illegal gaming facilities off Bureau of Indian Affairs-approved tribal trust lands. According to briefs submitted by the Cherokee Nation, the UKB own no tribal lands in federal trust. The lawsuit is currently pending in the federal courts in Oklahoma and has been recently remanded to the National Indian Gaming Commission for review.
During the State of Oklahoma lawsuit pertaining to the UKB’s alleged illegal casino operations, an Indian casino that has been operating for approximately 19 years, the UKB was accused of attempting to sue the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation said the UKB had sued to demand cession of tribal land allotments to them in order to build casinos. These lawsuits were also dismissed.
The UKB has sued the United States for a share of the proceeds under HR-3534, a bill that required the United States to compensate the Cherokee Nation and two other Oklahoma tribes with claims to the disclaimed drybed lands of the Arkansas River. The legislation set aside ten percent of each tribe’s share of the settlement for other claimant tribes; it afforded other claimant tribes an opportunity to file claims within 180 days of the legislation. The UKB filed suit against the United States. The Cherokee Nation moved to intervene and to dismiss the UKB suit. It contended that the Cherokee Nation is an indispensable party and that it cannot be joined in the litigation because of its sovereign immunity. The Court of Claims granted both of the Cherokee Nation’s motions. On April 14, 2006, on appeal, the United States sided with the UKB against the Cherokee Nation’s request for dismissal. The Court of Federal Claims heard the appeal on November 8, 2006.
In June 2004, the UKB requested that the BIA take into trust land which it owned on a fee basis, a 76-acre Community Services Parcel. The case has been studied and the request was originally denied, but the UKB appealed. In May 2011, the BIA finally announced its decision to take into trust for the UKB 76 acres of land in Tahlequah, which include several of its community centers and the sacred dance ground. The tribe will no longer be landless.