CONCHO, Okla. - The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma have petitioned
the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be allowed to buy a small reservation in
Colorado for a gaming and cultural facility in settlement for their forced
19th century removal from Colorado and acts of genocide against them,
including the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.
The tribes' "Homecoming Project" would not extinguish individual
descendants of Sand Creek victims' reparations claims, the petition
prominently points out, just tribal ones.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho are requesting the approval of BIA assistant
secretary Dave Anderson for a settlement involving 500 acres of land
somewhere in the tribes' Aboriginal lands in Colorado. The tribes would buy
the parcel, which would be taken into trust status, and use it for economic
Steve Hillard, president of Colorado-based investment company Council Tree
Communications, said news reports that the tribes have their eyes on a site
near Denver International Airport are "overstated." He said a dozen sites
east of Denver and in the vicinity of Central City have been looked at. An
affiliate of his investment company called Native American Land Group would
work with the tribes on developing a $100 - $150 million casino and
destination cultural center.
Native American Land Group's managing member is Arctic Slope Regional
Corp., an Alaska Native corporation based in Anchorage and Barrow, Alaska.
Several other Alaska Native groups are investors as well, said Hillard:
Kuskokwim Corp., Bethel Native Corp., and St. George Tanaq. The tribes and
NALG would split net revenues.
Hillard said the Alaska Native groups became involved through a previous
project by Council Tree, which was started to promote diversity in
telecommunications. The project, Alaska Native Wireless, turned out to be a
$2.9 billion financing. Another Council Tree deal was the sale of the
Spanish-language network Telemundo to General Electric, for $2.7 billion.
Council Tree originally approached the Cheyenne and Arapaho on another
telecommunications project involving radio stations. Hillard said the focus
changed when his group heard the history of the tribes and saw the
"restricted flow of opportunity" at their current location in Oklahoma.
This is the first time the group has tried to develop a casino, and it has
been working on the project for about 18 months.
He said the group has consulted with Sand Creek descendants "to make sure
nothing in this would interfere with the rights of individuals."
Raising money, through debt and equity, won't be a problem, Hillard said,
as his firm has raised larger amounts before. Getting the necessary
approvals to initiate construction will be the group's next efforts. "We
would love to have a site selected and announced in three or four months,"
he said. Having the petition to BIA framed as a process to settle should
mean "Interior can move relatively fast," and use its good offices to move
the deal forward with state officials.
Once construction is under way, Hillard is confident the project could be
built in six to nine months.
Hillard said reports in the Denver Post of opposition or hesitancy on the
part of prominent state officials like Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Senators
Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard "are substantially overstated."
Sen. Campbell is himself Cheyenne and was quoted as describing himself as
uneasy about any casino settlement linked to the Sand Creek atrocity but
more sanguine about a casino where others already exist, like Central City.
Hillard said public officials have shown "an openness to a settlement
process" and said "this project is now viewed as legitimate." He described
their reaction as "what's a fair and balanced deal? Rather than being
dismissive of the project."
Left up in the air currently, Hillard said, is the future of the 27 million
acres the tribes claim to have land, mineral or water rights on in
According to the project's Web site, www.homecomingproject.org, it will
generate $1 billion in payroll and 5,000 new jobs over the next 10 years,
$2 million in community reinvestment funds, $3 million in capital for the
development of a metro-area events center, and cost nothing to the state.
According to Bill Bland, vice chairman of the tribes, "Colorado was the
home and hunting grounds of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people from time
immemorial until our forcible exile. Under a deliberate program of
extermination and removal, we were driven from our Colorado home and
relegated to scattered reservation lands that trapped our people into a
cycle of economic disadvantage, unemployment, health problems, housing
problems and educational disadvantages for our children. The Homecoming
Project is a fair settlement that is good for Colorado and will allow us to
return to an economic and cultural presence on our ancestral lands."