Tribe Chairman John L. Berrey said that if an agreement prohibiting a casino would make people happy, he’d sign one.
The tribe also announced on Friday it has approved a resolution declaring its 160 acres of land in Central Arkansas a sacred site.
In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs dated Wednesday, Chairman Berrey reiterated his previous statements that the tribe – which operates casinos in Oklahoma – does not plan to conduct gaming on the land, which it is seeking to place into federal trust.
The tribe also is willing to consider “any other appropriate means” of satisfying Arkansas authorities that the tribe will not seek to operate a casino on the land, he said in the letter.
Placing the land into federal trust would give the tribe jurisdiction over it. Several elected officials have written letters opposing the tribe’s request, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde; U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, both R-Ark.; and U.S. Reps. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and French Hill, R-Little Rock.
However, Berrey also wrote in his letter that there is a “substantial evidence” connecting places of burial in the land of the tribe. Hutchinson has put in doubt that there is evidence of an existing connection.
“The Quapaw’s homeland is in Arkansas, and Central Arkansas is the last area of the state in which it was allowed to live before being removed to Louisiana and what is now Oklahoma,” Berrey said in his letter.
“The tribe was originally known as the Arkansa and did not become known as the Quapaw until after the U.S. took control of the Louisiana Territory,” he said.
The tribe chairman also disagreed with Hutchinson’s comments that placing the land into trust is not necessary because the state is already protecting the burial sites and that granting the tribe’s request might make it difficult for the state to protect burial sites of black slaves.
On the other hand, the Pulaski County judge had expressed opposition to the trust application in May, saying he didn’t want to lose part of the county.
But on Friday, Hyde said the tribe’s willingness to sign an agreement banning a casino and potentially other uses is “pretty significant,” and encouraged the tribe to meet with community members to develop a memorandum of understanding between them.