By Timothy Cox
A tribe of Eastern Shawnee Indians hoping to build several casinos in Ohio -- including one in Botkins -- plans to file a federal lawsuit against the state today, alleging their land was stolen from them long ago.
Specifically, the tribe is seeking redress for what it calls the "unlawful seizure" of land in a vast tract of 93,000 acres that runs from the Ohio River north to Wapakoneta, including much of the Miami Valley. The tribe had been threatening the lawsuit unless state officials talk with them about moving forward their casino plans. State officials have ignored the threat and refused to discuss the casino issue with the tribe.
Because gambling is outlawed in Ohio and the Eastern Shawnee tribe is not currently recognized by the state as a native tribe, the group cannot legally move forward in the state with its plans to develop entertainment complexes based around gambling.
Tribal Chief Charles Enyart and Seattle attorney Mason Morisset planned to formally announce the filing of a federal lawsuit this afternoon in Columbus. The lawsuit's paperwork will be filed in federal court in Toledo.
"Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has refused to meet with Chief Enyart and national legal expert Morisset and review legal evidence, forcing the tribe now to take federal court action," spokesman Terry Casey said in a news release this morning. Tribal officials say they clearly have a legal claim. The tribe has been federally recognized since 1937 and also has an "extensive and unmatched history in Ohio," the news release said. As evidence of their claims, the Eastern Shawnee point to historical figures such as Tecumseh and Blue Jacket who lived in Ohio. The large number of schools, lakes, roads and communities in western Ohio also are evidence of the tribe's history here, Casey said.
Morisset, the tribe's attorney, has waged successful legal battles against states on behalf of Indian tribes before, according to the news release. Morisset has argued cases involving hunting and fishing rights, cigarette sales and tax issues.
Ohio voters twice in the 1990s rejected state ballot initiatives that would have legalized gambling in some forms. Gov. Bob Taft also has been a vocal opponent of bringing casino gambling to the state.
Supporters of the gaming issue say Ohio loses millions each year when its citizens go to Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan to gamble legally at casinos in those states.
The Eastern Shawnee tribe has been pursuing its casino project for years in Ohio. The issue first became public in November 2002 after The Daily Standard published an article about the proposed project in Botkins. Within weeks, investors and tribal officials organized public meetings to brief the community on its plans. The tribe also divulged plans to build similar complexes near Lorain, Lordstown and Monroe.