A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma lack the right to claim 7,000 acres of land near Fort Reno from the U.S. government.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a district court ruling that said the statute of limitations had expired. The tribes have the right to contest a third party who may use the land in the future, tribal lawyer Richard J. Grellner said. The tribes were awarded 5 million acres west of Oklahoma City when they were moved there in 1869. In 1883, a presidential order took 9,500 acres of that land for "military purposes exclusively,” and Fort Reno was created. The tribes expected the land to be returned when military use of the land ended. In recent years, tribal and government officials have expressed interest in using the land for commercial development or oil or gas exploration. But the ruling Tuesday didn’t settle the century-old feud between the federal government and the tribes, Grellner said. Tribal officials and attorneys haven’t decided what to do yet, Grellner said. The tribe could ask the entire U.S. Appeals Court to rehear the case, which was heard and ruled on by a three-judge panel. The tribes could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The government’s argument is that the 12-year statute of limitations clock starts ticking from the moment the government did something with the land that was out of line with tribal needs, according to the court decision. So that clock started when the government transferred about 2,700 acres to the Bureau of Prisons in 1937 and again with the transfer of about 6,800 acres to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1948, said attorney Mary Sprague, who represented the government when the court heard the case Jan. 5. The tribes only want the 6,800 acres used for grazing by the Department of Agriculture.