No Statute of Limitations for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Chester Arthur and U.S. Grant made a promise. America should keep it
Published: December 2nd, 2020
There should be no statute of limitations on doing the right thing. This is most true for individuals, yet even nations should seek to rectify past error, without creating new wrongs.
On my mind, again: Land claims of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
In 1869, President U.S. Grant established the original boundaries of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal lands (in what is now Oklahoma) through an executive order.
In 1883, almost 10,000 acres for a fort was chiseled out with an explicit understanding the area would revert to the Two Tribes when no longer needed for the military (Executive Order July 17, 1883, I.C. Kappler, Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties 842, 1904).
The executive order of President Chester A. Arthur reserved 9,500 acres for “military purposes exclusively” – with an explicit proviso that if and when the U.S. military no longer needed the land, it would return to the tribes.
Fort Reno was intended to protect both settlers and tribes. In some ways it functioned as such. When the tribes ultimately surrendered the bulk of their lands, Fort Reno was not included in the deed.
At the time of individual allotments in 1890, the reservation per se began to fade away. However, Fort Reno was not included in that cession.
I have previously detailed historic events establishing a formal presence – recognized by the U.S. government – for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. The key words in the foregoing paragraphs are “executive orders.”
Some presidents have abused this authority. However, their use extends back to the early days of U.S. history. Such Orders been employed to address questions in and around what is deemed “Indian Country.”
Fort Reno continued as a military installation until 1948, when the Army transferred the land to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The plot thickened. In 1949 and 1951, the U.S. House passed legislation to return the 7,000 remaining “fort” acres to the Two Tribes, but that died in the Senate. The “AG” department and allies kept the area away from the tribes.
In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon triggered new sensitivity to sovereign tribal powers. After Nixon, renewed sensitivity to tribal rights unfolded over many decades.
After hope for the Tribes early in Bill Clinton’s era, there was a bad end game. There were hearings that included House and Senate probes into alleged ‘quid pro quo’ promises (campaign gifts in return for restoration of the land) exchanged between administration officials and tribal leaders. The Clinton-era controversies are well-documented.
Time passed even as the Congressional Research Service in 1994 (and the Agriculture Department did not disagree) deemed the Reno facilities ‘redundant, outdated and duplicative.”
In some of my past essays, I detailed the efforts of Archie Hoffman and Charles Surveyor – two of my Oklahoma heroes among those who have gone on to the world to come. Their dreams were based on exchanges with key players for President Bill Clinton, but hope faltered.
Year after year, memory of the promise fades. Early in the new millennium, Senate-originated “riders” in the 2000-01 appropriations process barred any finding that would have allowed the land to return to the Tribes as a result of closure (and the “excess property” designation). The tribes successfully fought a bill in 2006 that would have directed federal mineral lease revenue toward historic preservation of existing facilities.
The tribes uncovered in litigation a U.S. government practice of classifying as national secrets various documents in order to obscure the land’s status. Even as a federal court found the Two Tribes has missed a statute of limitations claim (under the federal Quiet Title Act) the judges admitted land title was clouded.
In 2009, President Barack Obama seemed the perfect executive to bring a measure of justice to the Two Tribes. But like those who came before him, he sent inconsistent messages, even as he often acted in ways that supported smaller tribal nations.
When he visited Fort Reno, some hoped Obama would revisit the issue during a swing through Oklahoma, laying the basis for the land to revert to its proper owners. That trip came and went without any official action – not even a meeting with tribal activists.
Obama bought into the Interior Department/BIA mindset following the model from generations of bureaucratic predecessors in both major political parties.
In a notable news report for Politico.com (October 2015), journalist David Rogers wrote, “From Oklahoma to California, rich tribes play the political system to protect their share of the gaming markets. Lost is any perspective on the hundreds of poorer tribes just trying to establish some economic foothold and homeland for themselves.”
Obama stuck with historic injustices that allowed large tribal interests to utilize areas that should have come to rest in the control of the smaller tribes like the C&As, UKBs (United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians), the Comanche, the Kiowa, the Kickapoo, the Kaw, the Otoe-Missouria, the Apache and others.
The U.S. should honor promises made to the Two Tribes by U.S. Grant and Chester Arthur. That could also in memory honor military veterans (Hoffman and Surveyor) and the legion of other Oklahoma tribal members who served America in good times and in bad.
Which brings me to Donald Trump.
In March of 2017, I detailed ways in which Trump could advance the interests of smaller Native American tribes marginalized by the power and economic clout of larger tribes, advantages exacerbated over generations through bad bureaucratic decisions about the location of trust lands, use of those lands and related decisions.
Concerning Fort Reno, nothing of a final nature has occurred in recent years. Trump still has time to do the right thing.
Two key words: Executive. Order.
Justice for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
Trump can deliver it.
For background, see past stories online at www.capitolbeatok.com , including here: