The leader of the Quapaw Tribe visited with Arkansas’s legislative black caucus Tuesday and maintained the right of the Indian Nation to seek federal trust status for 160 acres of land near downtown Little Rock. The designation would allow the land – which sits in the middle of long-term growth plans for Little Rock’s port – to be exempt from local and state control.
Quapaw Chairman John Berrey said the caucus was supportive. But he said there is a pervasive and misguided suspicion among some local leaders that the land, which contains Quapaw and slave burial sites, will be developed into a casino.
“First of all, it’s odd that we have to come back and purchase land that we were kicked off of. And second, there’s a lot of fear mongering put into this process that’s unnecessary. We think it’s motivated by people who don’t really care who we are and what we’re trying to do. They’re just trying to protect their own monopolies,” said Berrey.
He said for now a return to Arkansas and protecting a cultural site is the only plan for the site along the Arkansas River.
“I just want to protect that land. My ancestors are buried there and so are the ancestors of the African-American community down there. We think their lives have meaning and we think it’s our responsibility to do everything that we can,” said Berrey.
The Little Rock Port Authority has expressed concern that Quapaw developments might not be supportive of long-term development plans for the industrial section of the city. Berrey said he feels the tribe and port have found a better understanding since the application for federal trust status was first announced. But Berrey hasn't agreed with Little Rock's mayor and Pulaski County's judge's decision to weigh in on the trust application.
“All the discussions we’ve had with the Port Authority have been very positive. They’re just dedicated to the citizens and we respect that. With the Port Authority we’ve sort of overcome the negative. It’s more so Judge Barry Hyde and Mayor Mark Stodola that have this negative fear."
Nearly a third of the 3,200 plus Quapaw live under tribal governance in Oklahoma. The tribe settled near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers in the mid-1600s. The population was forcibly removed from Arkansas by the United States government in 1834 shortly before Arkansas’s statehood was granted.