City, Kan. A judge's interpretation of a 150-year-old treaty
may determine the future of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition
Plant near De Soto.
The Shawnee tribe says it is entitled to the 9,065-acre site now
that the government wants to dispose of the land. But the federal
government says the tribe forfeited rights to the land under a treaty
ratified in 1854.
District Judge G. Thomas Van Bebber heard arguments in the tribe's
lawsuit on Friday.
tribe's claim to the land "has never been terminated, it has
never been extinguished and it has never been abrogated," tribe
attorney Scott Beeler said in court. "That's been true for
U.S. Atty. David Zimmerman disagreed.
believe there is no continuing Shawnee tribe reservation" that
includes the Sunflower site, Zimmerman told Van Bebber.
federal government in 1998 announced its intention to dispose of
the property because the plant had closed.
The tribe filed the suit in 2002, claiming it is entitled to the
site near De Soto. The tribe argues that treaties signed in 1825,
1831 and 1854 said that if the federal government chose to dispose
of the Sunflower site, the tribe had the authority to take it back.
sides agree on this much: Under the 1825 treaty, the Shawnee tribe
gave up land in Missouri in exchange for 1.6 million acres of land
that included all of what now are Johnson and Douglas counties in
Kansas. Members of the Shawnee tribe in Ohio gave up their land
in 1831 in exchange for 100,000 acres in the new Kansas reservation.
the sides disagree on how much land the Shawnee gave to the U.S.
government under the 1854 treaty.
said the government purchased all 1.6 million acres from the Shawnee
but gave tribal members a "right of first refusal" on
land within 200,000 acres that included part of the Sunflower site.
Beeler said the 200,000 acres was intended as a reservation for
said that if Congress never terminated the "reservation"
designation, then federal law gives the Shawnee rights to the Sunflower
site now that it is being sold.
under dispute: Whether the tribe ceased to exist and thus lost its
rights to the land when it merged with the Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma
between 1869 and 2000.
a red herring," Beeler said. "They (Shawnee) have always
maintained their separate heritage, their separate lineage, the
separate religion and their separate government."
lawsuit is the latest in a series of battles over the site.
of a "Wizard of Oz" theme park tried for several years
to get permission to develop the site, but that effort fizzled in
month, the Johnson County Commission designated Kessinger/Hunter,
a Kansas City firm, as its preferred developer of the site. The
company has proposed a mix of commercial, residential and park uses
for the site where bomb propellants were manufactured from 1942
say that once the county and company work out the details, Johnson
County will negotiate on behalf of the firm to buy the site from
the federal government. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has said she wouldn't
approve the transfer, however, unless developers included a life
sciences research park.
developments did not go unnoticed in the courtroom on Friday.
asked Van Bebber to "ignore the politics of whether the state
of Kansas wants this ground, whether Johnson County wants this ground,
or whether a private developer wants this ground." Zimmerman,
meanwhile, asked Van Bebber to dismiss the suit.
an agreement between attorneys, the government will give 30 days'
notice to the Shawnee if it transfers the land before the case is
don't anticipate any action on that front for six months,"
Zimmerman said in court.
have this case decided before then," Van Bebber said.
did not give a timeline for his ruling in the case.