BIA said to support Shawnee’s request for SFAAP property
Tribe would use proposed 1,500-acre site for bison introduction, prairie restoration
A spokesman for the Shawnee Tribe said the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was supporting the tribe's claim for 1,500 acres of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
The Shawnee's request in early 2002 for all of Sunflower's 9,065 acres received a good deal of notice. Less publicized was the tribe's request under another federal statute for 1,500 acres of Sunflower for bison introduction and prairie restoration.
Greg Pitcher, the tribe's economic development director, said he had received verbal confirmation from a BIA official the agency was supporting the smaller claim. Pitcher said he was waiting for a written notice of support from the agency, but didn't know when it would be delivered.
"It's not for lack of trying," he said. "I check with them at least once a week."
Any public benefit transfer of Sunflower property must be recommended by a federal agency. That, however, does not guarantee the request would be part of a future transfer of the plant from the Army to private parties, as witnessed by the city of De Soto's continued difficulties in getting absolute assurance it will one day own the Sunflower water plant it has leased the past four years. That proposed public benefit transfer comes with the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pitcher said the BIA official who told him of the agency's decision indicated he would also inform Blaine Hastings, the U.S. General Service Administration official handling the Sunflower transfer.
Hastings said he hadn't received such a call, but stopped short of saying the BIA hadn't made the decision.
"I've heard the same thing through the rumor mill, but I haven't seen anything in writing," he said. "With the BIA, you wait until it gets delivered."
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., transferred the Shawnee's lawsuit seeking Sunflower from a federal district court in the nation's capital to one in Kansas City, Kan.
The tribe's attorney in the case, Scott Beeler of the Kansas City firm Lathrop and Gage, said the assurances Pitcher received were part of ongoing negotiations the tribe was having with a number of federal agencies and officials.
Beeler refused to comment about what the BIA's backing of the Shawnee's request would mean other than to say, "The Shawnee feels very comfortable with the support of the claim."
A January BIA finding that Sunflower was not tribal land was seen as a blow to the Shawnee's bid to secure the entire plant under an 1854 treaty defining the limits of the Shawnee reservation. Pitcher said the treaty, which Congress has never amended, made much of northeastern Kansas, including Sunflower, part of the reservation.
The federal legislation that regulates early transfers like the one proposed for Sunflower gives Indian tribes the right to request property under public benefit transfer and a high priority to such requests. But the Shawnee were part of the Cherokee tribe when that process occurred at Sunflower (the Oklahoma-based Shawnee received Congressional recognition that it was a reconstituted tribe in 2001), and the Cherokee didn't forward the application documents to Shawnee officials.
It is the federal government's contention the tribe missed its shot to request public benefit transfers.
Beeler, however, said he was optimistic the tribe would prevail in its lawsuit and its request for the 1,500 acres for bison and prairie restoration request.
"We hope those will favorably resolve for the Shawnee in the not-too-distant future," he said.