Cherokee Nation v. Zinke, No. 17-7042 (10th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Intervenor-Appellant the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKB) purchased an undeveloped 76-acre parcel of land near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with the intention of developing it into a tribal and cultural center (Subject Tract, or Subject Parcel). The Subject Parcel sat entirely within the boundaries of the former reservation of Appellees the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (Nation). In 2004, the UKB submitted an application to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), requesting the BIA take the Subject Parcel into trust, thereby formally establishing a UKB tribal land base. The Nation opposed the application. After seven years of review, the BIA approved the UKB’s application. The Nation sued Department of the Interior and BIA officials, with the UKB intervening as defendants, challenging the BIA’s decision on several fronts. The district court found in favor of the Nation, determining that the BIA’s decision to take the Subject Parcel into trust was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.” Among other holdings, the district court concluded that: (1) the BIA had to obtain Nation consent before taking the Subject Parcel into trust; (2) the BIA’s analysis of two of its regulations as applied to the UKB application was arbitrary and capricious; and (3) the BIA must consider whether the UKB meets the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)’s definition of “Indian” in light of the Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the Secretary of the Interior had authority to take the Subject Parcel into trust under section 3 of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 (OIWA). The BIA was therefore not required to consider whether the UKB met the IRA’s definition of “Indian.” Nor was the BIA required to obtain the Nation’s consent before taking the land into trust. The Court also held the BIA’s application of its regulations was not arbitrary and capricious.