John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, has taken numerous exceptions to statements made by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in opposing the tribe’s application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 160 recently acquired acres in Pulaski County into federal trust, for greater control by the tribe.

The governor, County Judge Barry Hyde, four of six members of Congress from Arkansas and people associated with the Little Rock Port have objected to putting the agricultural land in trust, chiefly because of expressed fears that the tribe might someday want to put a casino there. Otherwise, objections have largely been patronizing — that local officials know better what to do with the ancestral Indian land surrounded by industrial zoning than the tribe does.


Berrey has responded, more explicitly than ever, that the tribe has no plans for a casino on the land and would even enter further agreements to guarantee that.

Among the points in the letter:


* TIES TO THE LAND: Hutchinson said there’s some dispute that Indian burial sites on the land can be directly linked to the Quapaw tribe, relocated from Arkansas years ago. Berrey said numerous state agencies recognize that the tribe is associated with sites of this age and type in Pulaski County and federal law sets a “preponderance of evidence” standard for a tribal affiliation with a burial site.

* REASONS FOR TRUST DESIGNATION: Opponents say the tribe hasn’t provided a “valid reason” for putting the land in trust. Berrey said such comments “appear to reflect a lack of understanding of the importance the Quapaw Tribe places on this land …” He writes that the Quapaw were known as the Arkansa before the U.S. purchased the Louisiana territory. The tribe was twice removed from what it considers its homeland and paid a pittance for its land. “The tribe has come full circle and has fulfilled the dream of our ancestors — to return and purchase land in our native homeland.”


* PROTECTION OF THE LAND: Berrey disputes Hutchinson’s statement that trust designation is unnecessary to protect other cultural sites. This, said Berrey, is just a “pretext” for opposition. 

The fact that slaves were buried on top of or adjacent to the Quapaw burial mounds on the land does not change the Quapaw Tribe’s desire to have this land taken into trust. I would like to point out, respectfully, that it is the Tribe — not the state — that has expressed an interest in preserving and protecting both the Quapaw burial sites and those of the African-American slaves. In fact, our people and these African-Americans share a great deal in common in their experiences in this country. Further, I am advised that there have been longtime efforts on the part of African-Americans in Arkansas to get the state to recognize and invest in the protection of such burial sites, without much result.

Berrey, who served on the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, said he’d learned through experience that “site preservation is better on federal lands than on lands held in private or state ownership.”

Berrey also questioned the state’s resources. He said Indian sites have been extensively looted in Arkansas and that tribes have been told by state officials that state law is inadequate to guard against looting

* GAMBLING: Hutchinson didn’t specifically mention casino gambling, but many others have. Said Berrey: “I believe the specter of gaming is being raised by third parties without justification and solely as a reason to oppose the application.” 


Berrey notes 1) that many requirements would have to be met before gaming could operate there; 2) the tribe has stated “unequivocally” that it will not use the land for gambling, and 3) the tribe will provide other assurances that it won’t gamble there, including an intergovernmental agreement.

* OTHER CONCERNS: He said it was hard to respond to the attorney general’s “list of perceived horribles,” but said the tribe has a long history of working with other governments. “I think it is unwarranted to suggest that the Tribe will set up any of a range of activities offensive to the state on the land that is subject to the fee-to-trust application.” 

Berrey criticized the state’s “heightened scrutiny” for a relatively small amount of land transferred by Indians to federal trust when Arkansas has thousands of acres in federal ownership, chiefly forest land.

He disputed, too, the attorney general’s opinion that only Congress could confirm that a reservation had been disestablished. A treaty did that and courts have confirmed it, he said. He also questioned that office’s assertion that the tribe had not met procedural and environmental requirements. (He didn’t note the irony of this argument from an attorney general more accustomed to complaining about — rather than attempting to enforce — federal procedural and environmental requirements.)

Berrey emphasized his respect for Hutchinson and said he didn’t intend to be critical. He said he merely wanted to correct “misunderstandings.”

Also today, the tribe announced the Pulaski land had been declared a sacred site.