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DENVER-A day after Steve Hillard, an area lawyer and long-time proponent of Native American rights, was blasted by Gov. Bill Owens at a congressional briefing as engaging in “blackmail,” Hillard, of Council Tree Communications Inc., is vowing to continue the fight to bring a casino near the Denver International Airport. It would be part of a $300-million, luxury development.

“It is not a dead issue at all,” Hillard tells GlobeSt.com. “I’ve met with tribal leaders and we are more revolved than other to proceed ahead. We are currently evaluating our next step, which could involve filing litigation, possibly in some federal court. We are also contemplating going into a full land trust partnership.”

Hillard is representing about 11,000 members of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne Tribes from Oklahoma. He is asserting that the tribes currently hold aboriginal title to about 24 million acres of land in Colorado identified in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1865. His argument is that the US government tried to commit genocide against the tribes, which gives them claims to the land. However, he is willing to drop his claims if the tribes are allowed to buy 500 acres for the casino. The casino would be an amenity of a luxury development that would also include a hotel, an 18-hole golf course, high-end retail and houses.

One proposal in Commerce City that was floated–and quickly rejected by Commerce City–would have included 2,000 homes around the golf course. If Hillard gets the blessing of the state, he would guarantee the state $100 million for 10 years for a total of $1 billion to help the education crisis in Colorado. In addition, the state would collect $21 out of every $100 in gaming revenues, Hillard tells GlobeSt.com.

Owens, however, described this as “blackmail,” at a recent briefing infront off the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “I find thatinappropriate and deeply offensive,” Hillard says. “Thegovernor could not get away with talking about any other minority group that way.”

However, Dan Hopkins, Owens’ spokesman, tells GlobeSt.com that isridiculous. “The governor made it very clear he was speaking about Hillard’s proposal, and not about the Indian tribes,” Hopkins tells GlobeSt.com. “What is inappropriate is that Hillard is trying to circumvent the Constitution of Colorado that clearly calls for a vote.”

In addition, Michael J. McKeown, deputy solicitor of the US Departmentof Interior, in a four-page letter to Hillard, obtained by GlobeSt.com, dealt him another setback. “We have carefully considered the Tribes’ request to discuss a possible settlement of the claims and…courteously decline to pursue such a settlement,” McKeown writes.

The letter notes that the Indian Claims Commission established in 1946 to resolve all outstanding claims of American Indians against the US has a five-year time period for bringing claims forward. “Based upon our initial review, it appears that any cognizable claims the Tribes may have had accrued prior to 1946 and therefore may not now be submitted to the Secretary of Interior for consideration.” In addition, Congress in 1965 appropriated $15 million to the tribes.

During the briefing, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) asked Hillard why he’s only seeking to buy 500 acres if he believes he has claims to 24 million acres. “Sen. McCain is not a businessman,” Hillard tells GlobeSt.com. “He may make glib comments, but the tribes are making a considered business decision. If we go forward with litigation and put those land titles at risk, it would be an unfortunate path for everyone.”

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