FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Governor’s Letter to Bureau of Indian Affairs
STATE OF ARKANSAS
June 11, 2015
Scott C. Meneely
Acting Regional Director
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Eastern Regional Office
Attention: Divison of Real Estate Services
545 Marriott Drive, Suite 700
Nashville, TN 37214
Dear Director Meneely:
As Governor of the State of Arkansas, I would like to extend my respect and appreciation to the Quapaw Tribe's culture and heritage within Arkansas. My staff and I have had the opportunity to meet Chairman John Berrey and applaud his interest in insuring a legacy for his Tribe.
I am writing in response to the Eastern Region Acting Regional Director, Scott C. Meneely's, invitation to comment on the proposed acquisition of 160 acres of land in Pulaski County, Arkansas, to be held in trust by the United States for the use and benefit of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma (Tribe). The Tribe proposes to use the property to facilitate tribal self determination through the protection and preservation of the archeological sites located thereon of cultural significance to the Tribe. The interests of the State of Arkansas must be balanced with the honor due the Quapaw Nation.
The letter requested information regarding taxes, assessments, services and zoning. On May 11, 2015, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde provided a thorough response containing data and figures which detail the current state of taxes, assessments, services and zoning on the property to date. I ask that you consider the response provided by Judge Hyde regarding these questions.
The Office of Attorney General of the State of Arkansas has prepared a legal analysis on behalf of the state, and I ask to you consider this information as a part of my comments and information provided along with this letter. General Rutledge has set forth the jurisdictional challenges and other issues that would affect my role in governing the State of Arkansas as well as identifying the effect this request has on the state.
I would like to highlight several points which are addressed in more detail in the brief. First, the land in consideration is more than 300 miles away from the Quapaw Headquarters. I am concerned as to what extent the Tribal law would be administered on the land in question considering the distance to the Tribal government. Further, the state's respective bodies of government will be limited in their jurisdictional capacity on the Arkansas land, causing inability to carry out the laws of the state and limiting its ability to protect the citizens of the State of Arkansas.
Second, the land in consideration has historical significance as containing burial grounds. The State of Arkansas is charged by statute to protect burial grounds. Act 1533 of 1999, the Grave Protection Act, prohibits tampering of Native American, Civil War, or slave burial grounds and places strict criminal penalties on anyone convicted of trading, collecting, or displaying subsequent remains. The protection of our state's history and heritage has been and will continue to be a priority of our state and of mine as governor. Placing the land into federal trust would remove the state's ability to protect the interest of its citizens.
The Tribe's application asserts the burial remains are that of the Quapaw. However, the report provided by the Tribe does not offer definitive proof identifying the remains as that of the Quapaw people. Further, the Tribe asserts that there are also burial remains of African American slaves on the land in question. I am assured that the Tribe is interested in protecting the burial remains and that the Tribe has conferred with the Preservation of African American Cemeteries Inc. regarding protection of the African American slave remains. I have no doubt Chairman Berrey has a genuine desire to protect Quapaw remains. However, this desire alone is not sufficient to allay my concerns.
The non-Quapaw burial remains and historical presence which deserve state protection on the land at issue, coupled with the question of whether the earlier remains discovered on the land are Quapaw or that of an earlier people, gives me great pause. If the land were placed into trust, the state would lose the ability to protect the interests of the decedents of the original inhabitants and any other historical presence or artifacts discovered on the land. I am concerned about whether there is a rational basis to place the land into trust given these unrequited issues.
My final point of concern involves the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The Tribe has not provided an environmental assessment and impact statement in support of its application. The fact that the land in question contains burial grounds and is located in a flood plain necessitates a thorough review and consideration of the environmental impact of placing this land into trust.
I appreciate your careful consideration of this application and of the state's concerns. For the reservations stated herein and more fully set forth in the brief provided by the Attorney General, the state cannot support the application. Regardless of the decision, the Quapaw will remain an essential part of Arkansas heritage and the Office of Governor will continue to do its best to administer the rule of law and protect the interests of the State of Arkansas.