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Kickapoo of Kan. still seeking reservoir

Published on -10/30/2012, 4:03 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A water board's decades-long refusal to exercise its power of eminent domain to facilitate the building of a reservoir on the Kickapoo tribal reservation in northeast Kansas shows discrimination, the chairman of the Native American tribe said Tuesday.

The Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas has been planning since the late 1970s to build the 1,200-acre Plum Creek Reservoir to ease water shortages on its reservation about 90 miles northwest of Kansas City. The plan involves damming an area along Plum Creek, which flows into the Delaware River.

In 1998, Congress approved an agreement between the Kickapoo and the Nemaha-Brown Watershed Board to build the dam as part of another watershed program. But some landowners refused to sell their property and the watershed board has since declined to use its power of eminent domain to take the land, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Under treaties and a 1908 Supreme Court ruling, the Kickapoo and other tribes have the right to waters that flow through their reservations, Kickapoo Chairman Steve Cadue said. The reservoir is similar in scope to hundreds of others built in Kansas that relied on eminent domain and yet the board won't help, Cadue told The Associated Press Tuesday.

"They are reluctant to condemn white man's land for the benefit of Kickapoo Indian people," he said.

Messages left at the watershed board offices were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The tribe filed a federal lawsuit in 2006 to try to force the project.

During a visit to Topeka on Friday, Cadue delivered a letter for Gov. Sam Brownback asking for his assistance in resolving the dispute.

"We despise the need to file federal lawsuits in order to secure our sovereign treaty water rights and we would believe you feel the same," Cadue said in the letter.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said in an email to reporters that both parties rejected the option of the governor's administration mediating in the dispute in formal filings with the federal district court in June. The governor's office "does not have the authority to bind either the Kickapoo Tribe or the Nemaha Brown Watershed Board in this litigation," Jones-Sontag said, adding that Cadue has in the past agreed with this point.

Nonetheless, Cadue said he still expected to hear directly from Brownback, a former U.S. Senator from Kansas, to help ease the stalemate.

"When he was in the U.S. senator's office he said he was very supportive of the water project, he knew its value and its purpose, and he said it was a state issue," Cadue said. "And now guess what, he's the governor."

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