Quapaws’ plans for Little Rock remain on pause
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.