They Say You Can't Go Home Again... But Can a Tribe?

Mar 30, 2013

Delaware Tribe logo
Credit courtesy Delaware Tribe Website

Dee Ketchum, former chief of The Delaware Tribe of  Indians in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is now a consultant with the tribe.  Ketchum said the Delaware Tribe has a problem that most other tribes don’t, they are under the jurisdiction of another tribe.

“The Delaware Tribe has been here since 1867.  The federal government moved our tribe here and put us kind of right on top on the Cherokee Nation.  A few years ago, you know, we've been on again off again with our federal recognition.  Each time we would get reinstated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, seems like the Cherokee Nation would sue us and we would win, and then we'd lose and then we'd win again but...we got restored in 2009.  But in order to do that our chief at that time signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cherokee Nation because we, uh, reorganized through the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act they required us to sign an agreement with the Cherokee Nation that all our funding and all our grants would go through the Cherokee Nation.  We could not put any land in trust because the 14 counties the Cherokee Nation claims as their jurisdiction, we could not put land in trust without their authority. Nor if we started any businesses then we'd have to pay them a tribal tax and so our council on July 2, 2012, with our new chief, the council decided enough is enough after 145 years of fighting with the Cherokee Nation, to relocate to our old reservation lands in Kansas.  We're only about 20 miles from the Kansas border, as a matter of fact we have, a few years ago, had a child care facility there in Caney, Kansas. And we presently have 2 business operations now that are operating out of that building.”

Kansas officials recognize that re-establishing the tribe there could be a win win, and Ketchum has down his homework.  He said, “We have met with the governor's staff in Kansas, we've met with the Kansas City, Kansas mayor, Tonganoxie mayor, Honor Springs mayor and also Leavenworth’s mayor and council. We got a wonderful reception from all of those.  We would move our tribal headquarters and be a resident tribe of Kansas.  We would keep our location in Oklahoma as we have buildings and so forth here.  All our people are not going to move back to Kansas.  But we'd have a location here in Oklahoma for activities and so forth so we don't want to interrupt that.”

Besides the economic reasons for relocating the tribe back to its original lands, there is also a personal and communal connection to those homelands, their ancestors are there. “We had to leave behind a lot of our ancestors that were buried there, who died there.  So consequently an opportunity to return back to that portion where our ancestors had been buried and that's one phase obviously, but it involves just as much as that, it involves economic development.  We're not able to do anything here in Oklahoma because of the Cherokee claim on the jurisdictional area of the 14 counties.  We're right on top of that in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.”  Ketchum attributes the proposed move to a new attitude and a new chief. “This chief, Paula Pechonik, and the council, has decided enough's enough, lets us relocate and provide our people with what they deserve to have because we've been doing without for so many years.”  Ketchum said there is no timetable for the move at the present time, but they are moving forward by going back to their past.