Kaw Nation Gets 21 Acres in Trust for Gaming

Gale Courey Toensing

The Interior Department has approved an application to take 21 acres of land into trust for gaming purposes for the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma. The Kaw are known as the People of the South Wind.

Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn announced the decision in a media release March 10. “The Kaw Project will provide significant opportunities for economic development for the Kaw Nation, and will provide a means for the Tribe to improve the governmental services it provides to its members,” Washburn said.  “The acquisition of the site in trust is necessary to support these efforts.”

The 21-acre parcel is located in Kay County, an area that includes the Nation’s headquarters. The Nation plans to construct and operate a small casino facility on the site, which also hosts the Tribe’s travel plaza that provides refueling to interstate traffic and will continue to operate on the site. Kaw owns and operates the South Wind Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma, and another South Wind Casino in Kaw City, Oklahoma.

The Interior Department took the land into trust under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which authorizes the Secretary to acquire trust land for Indian tribes and individuals. Last year, Washburn approved the Nation’s proposed gaming facility plan under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, finding that the gaming facility would be in the best interest of the Kaw Nation and its members and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. On May 23, 2013, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma concurred in this determination and both the local town and Kay County strongly supported the acquisition of the site into trust status.

The Kaw, or Kansa, people’s territory originally covered around 20 million acres of the northern half of what became known as Kansas. The Nation ceded more than 18 million acres in a treaty with the federal government in 1825  following the admission of Missouri to statehood in 1821, the opening of the Santa Fe Trail that same year, and especially the need to establish reservations for the emigrant Shawnee, Delaware and Kickapoo nations. In exchange the Kaws were awarded a $3,500 annuity for 20 years, a quantity of cattle, hogs and domestic fowl, a government blacksmith and agricultural instructor, and schools to be funded from earlier Kaw land sales in the Kansas City area, according to the Nation’s website.

The 1825 treaty worked as well as the other 500-plus treaties the federal government made with American Indian tribes  that were broken, changed or nullified when it served the government’s interests. For the Kaw, the next several decades were marked by more pressure to give up land for white settlers and the building of the railroad during the push west. Decimated by poverty, smallpox and other diseases, the Nation entered another treaty in that forced the sale of its remaining  2 million-acre reservation to the government for just over 10 cents an acre. Th Nation got some money and a 256,000- acre reservation in exchange but by 1859 another shady treaty reduced the Nation’s land holdings to 80,000 acres of the poorest land broken into 40-acre family allotments. The federal government held the remaining 176,000 in trust for sale to the highest bidder. By then the government was already talking about removing the Kaw from Kansas altogether.

That happened in 1872 when the federal government passed an act removing the Kaw Nation to Oklahoma where it bought land for a reservation that was carved out of the existing Osage reservation. But in the 1970s the Kaw reservation was flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers for the creation of the Kaw Dam and Reservoir on the Arkansas River.  As a result, the Kaw Nation no longer has land on its former reservation.  This fact distinguishes the Kaw Nation from other tribes in Oklahoma, Washburn said.  

The Kaw Nation’s home is now in Kay County. The gaming site is only 21 miles from the boundaries of the Nation’s former reservation and is near the Nation’s key governmental sites and population center at Newkirk. “The Kaw Nation has strong ties to the region,” Washburn said. “The Nation seeks to restore a tribal land base in a region it has historically inhabited.”  
Kaw Chairman Guy Monroe could not be reached for comment.

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