Qua­paws’ plans for Lit­tle Rock re­main on pause

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - EMILY WALKENHORST

The Qua­paw Tribe of Ok­la­homa, once a sub­ject of con­cern for Lit­tle Rock-area of­fi­cials, has been mostly in­ac­tive in Pu­laski County in the past year and a half.

Tribal chair­man John Ber­rey pre­vi­ously an­nounced plans for the tribe to get its land placed into a fed­eral trust, ac­quire more land and build a mon­u­ment to an­ces­tors on its 160 acres just east of Lit­tle Rock. But the tribe has done lit­tle in the two years since its land ac­qui­si­tion and trust ap­pli­ca­tion drew op­po­si­tion from Arkansas’ state, con­gres­sional and Lit­tle Rock-area lead­ers.

For a time, the tribe grew peas, okra and soy­beans to do­nate to the Arkansas Food Bank, but stopped mak­ing those do­na­tions at least a year ago, chief ex­ec­u­tive Rhonda San­ders said.

“I haven’t heard any­thing from any­body for a long time,” said Bryan Day, di­rec­tor of the Lit­tle Rock Port Author­ity, which is just north of the tribe’s land and had voiced con­cern about the tribe’s plans be­cause of the port’s in­ter­est in ex­pand­ing in­dus­try south of its cur­rent prop­erty.

“We’ve been so busy with a lot of other things,” Ber­rey said.

The tribe is pri­mar­ily in Ok­la­homa, where it op­er­ates two casi­nos, child­hood learn­ing cen­ters, a tribal mu­seum, a golf course, a fit­ness cen­ter, coun­sel­ing ser­vices, a con­struc­tion com­pany and a gas sta­tion. Ber­rey said he’s been work­ing there on re­fi­nanc­ing bonds and on lit­i­ga­tion.

“We’re an in­de­pen­dent, sov­er­eign tribe do­ing things,” said Ber­rey, who trav­eled to Arkansas nu­mer­ous times in 2015. “The tribe just isn’t fo­cused on Arkansas right now.”

The goals in Arkansas re­main the same, he said, and he in­tends to fo­cus again on Arkansas soon.

Ber­rey, Day and other Port Author­ity of­fi­cials had worked on sign­ing a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween the tribe and the Port Author­ity stip­u­lat­ing that use of tribe-owned prop­erty should be con­sis­tent with the Port Author­ity in­dus­try-fo­cused mis­sion state­ment and ad­dress­ing how the tribe and port would work to­gether if more tribal ar­ti­facts are dis­cov­ered on port land. Ul­ti­mately, the Port Author­ity’s board of di­rec­tors re­jected the agree­ment.

“We talked a lot un­til the board took its ac­tion, and we haven’t talked since,” Day said. “It didn’t end well.”

Sus­pi­cion about the tribe’s plans in Arkansas was wide­spread two years ago, when Lit­tle Rock-area lead­ers voiced con­cern that the tribe would build a casino if the Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs ap­proved its land trust ap­pli­ca­tion.

Tribal of­fi­cials have de­scribed plac­ing land into a trust as a fairly com­mon prac­tice for tribes to pre­vent alien­ation, which is the abil­ity of a prop­erty or prop­erty rights to be sold or trans­ferred.

The tribe could build a casino on the prop­erty only if it pur­sued a sep­a­rate fed­eral ap­pli­ca­tion that also would take into con­sid­er­a­tion in­put from the sur­round­ing area. The tribe never in­di­cated in its trust ap­pli­ca­tion that it in­tended to con­struct a casino.

The tribe bought the 160 acres in Pu­laski County in two 80-acre pur­chases in 2012 and 2013 for a to­tal of $1,372,000. The tribe has no other land in Arkansas, al­though it ac­tively ex­pressed in­ter­est in acreage near Big River Steel in Mis­sis­sippi County years ago. Ber­rey told the Port Author­ity board at a meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2016 that he wanted to buy more land in Pu­laski County.

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