The Little Rock Port Authority has been talking for almost a year with the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma about the tribe’s use of ancestral land purchased near the port. A memorandum has been drafted and the tribe has agreed to its terms. But the board of the Port Authority still hasn’t adopted it.
(UPDATE: Port Director Bryan Day objects to the original phrasing that the memorandum itself had been under discussion for almost a year, putting the formal talks on it back only to June or so. The land was acquired in 2013. People associated with the port have been stirring up objections to free tribe use of the land ever since and it intensified as part of a strategic plan for the port put in motion last February.)
Why the delay in completing the deal? The tribe has specified it has no plans to build a casino on the property, as it has done in Oklahoma. Local business interests have tried by various means to restrict what the tribe can do on its property outside the city (currently farm land), though it is in a no-use-restrictions industrial zone. The excuse has been a purported concern about potential hindrance to future port development. But no one has attempted to enforce any restrictions on other neighboring land owners.Opposition here has been stirred by fear of a casino operation, which could, incidentally, compete with casinos in West Memphis and, particularly, Hot Springs.
I asked Port Director Bryan Day about the delay as well as for copies of any communications relative to the issue. He responded:
The MOU that we have prepared has generated a number of questions and dialogue that we had not worked thru. We (the Little Rock Port Authority) are attempting the due diligence in order to answer everyone’s questions and are exploring all of our options at this time. As for written documentation, all we have is the MOU (which you have a copy) – all of my dialogue with Board members and others has been verbal.
I asked for more specifics and remarked about a lack of openness on the part of various officials (I was thinking about particularly Mayor Mark Stodola and County Judge Barry Hyde) in discussing concerns about the Quapaw land:
There have been some questions from the business community; none of them have been in writing. The questions include things like: In reality, how legally binding is the agreement; what potential impact will the agreement have on the Port and our ability to make our own decisions moving forward; is the agreement in conflict with Federal or State law (pertaining to artifacts and historical human remains), etc. I cannot speak to the “openness” of “officials” (because I am not sure who you are referencing) – I can tell you that the Port is just trying to resolve any and all unanswered questions.
Which members of the business community? Day wouldn’t say.
I think it is pretty simple. Working in behalf of vested interests, local public officials are doing all they can to put ironclad limits on how a sovereign tribe can use its industrially zoned land outside the city. Would they do the same for non-Indians? The concurrent effort to hamper the tribe in winning federal trust status for the land is evidence of lack of good faith on the part of public officials.
I’m hoping to hear from Quapaw chairman John Berrey about developments, or lack of same.
PS: A friend notes that Oaklawn Park, the Hot Springs casino and racetrack, was a platinum sponsor at the year’s annual gathering of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, an organization whose reach doesn’t generally include Garland County. The chamber has been the source of much of the objecting to the Quapaw’s ability to use their ancestral land as they wish to use it.