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Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan has decided his office will intervene, after all, on behalf of 15 landowners being sued by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, which is asserting an unusual bid to reclaim its expansive tribal lands. An attorney with Ryan’s office spoke with landowners at a meeting this week, assuring them the office is prepared to step in and, by the end of July, ask a federal judge to dismiss the suit. And, the attorney general has retained Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt to handle the matter. Julian C. D’Esposito Jr., a partner with the firm’s government group, said Wednesday that the state intends to “aggressively” intervene to “protect the interests of the state and to assist the landowners who were individually named.” Filed June 2 with the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Ill., the Miami Tribe’s lawsuit, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma etc. v. Rex U. Walden et al., No. 004142JPG, seeks to reclaim 2.6 million acres in East Central Illinois. The tribe sued 15 landowners, randomly selected from each of the counties in the area. The tribe’s claim to the area known as the Wabash Watershed dates back to treaties enacted in the early 1800s, before the tribe was forced from the land and moved to Oklahoma. Landowners are right to take the lawsuit seriously, particularly since similar suits have found success in New York and, more recently, Texas. In June, after 17-years of litigation, a three-judge U.S. Court of Claims panel found that European settlers stole 2.8 million acres from the Alabama and Coushatta Indians in Texas. The Department of Justice is reviewing that decision, which could mean the tribe is entitled to recover lost revenue for timber, oil, and real estate that the tribe was deprived from selling. And in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of the Oneida tribe, ruling that the Oneidas, in violation of a 1795 treaty with the state, had been cheated out of 250,000 acres in Central New York. The tribe now operates a casino there. Though initial negotiations in the Miami case included talks of a land-based casino, Miami Tribe spokesman George Tiger said on Wednesday that the casino is no longer a negotiation point in the process. “This is the furthest from the truth,” he said, without elaborating on what else it might take to settle the matter if the case isn’t dismissed. Tiger said the lawsuit was prompted by a review the Miami conducted of various treaties the tribe had signed. Research revealed the tribe had never ceded the land in question, Tiger said. The suit targets a large swath of East Central Illinois, from Livingston County south to Crawford County and west to Shelby County. Also included are portions of Champaign and Vermilion counties. The tribe, about 22,000 strong, now resides in Miami in northeastern Oklahoma. Illinois landowners have met regularly since the lawsuit was filed and held a public meeting Monday. During that meeting, George Sotos of the Attorney General’s Government Representation Division carried a message from Attorney General Ryan that his office would indeed intervene. The decision to become involved came after state lawmakers from the area wrote to the attorney general and Gov. George H. Ryan seeking assistance for the landowners, randomly thrust into the court system. At least two of the defendants already have their own attorneys. While the attorney general’s office doesn’t typically represent individuals, Ryan explained in a prepared statement this week that it is in the best interest of the state to “vigorously defend the vast properties at issue here.”

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