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Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee nations seek $50 million

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. ? The Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations are seeking $50 million from the federal government to settle a dispute over the ownership of 7,750 acres along the Arkansas River.

The dispute stems from treaties between the federal government and the tribes in the 1800s that gave the three nations ownership of the land. The tribes have not yet received any settlement despite a 1970 Supreme Court ruling. Now they are trying to get their settlement through a proposal to Congress.

Since the land along the Arkansas River was never allotted, the tribes believe it should have remained under the control of the three tribal governments. However, over the years, the land was purchased and illegal titles were issued through the state and county governments, they say. The breakdown of land owned by the three nations is approximately 50 percent owned by the Cherokee Nation, 37.5 percent by the Choctaw Nation and 12.5 percent by the Chickasaw Nation.

The land includes not only the banks of the Arkansas River and the riverbed but gas, oil, sand and gravel which the tribes say was removed without their permission over the years. They say there should be compensation for their loss. Non-Indians own the land supposed to belong to the three nations.

The battle over ownership and rights was supposed to have been settled in 1970 when the high court ruled the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations in Oklahoma owned the land along the Arkansas River from Fort Smith, Ark., to Muskogee, Okla. (Choctaw Nation vs. State of Oklahoma)

The tribes hope to have a proposal introduced in Congress this year that would provide give them the $50 million settlement in exchange for dropping a lawsuit pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. "They're getting a bargain," Cherokee Nation attorney David Mullon said.

The tribes would retain the Arkansas River bed and its minerals and tribal lands that are undisputed from Arkansas to Muskogee. They would also keep water rights and negotiate them separately with the state of Oklahoma.

Any money the Cherokee Nation may receive from the proposed settlement with the federal government has been earmarked to buy trust land within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation's jurisdiction.