Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jack Thorpe vs. Jim Thorpe, Pa. - Legal Battle Over an Icon’s Remains

Published: July 24, 2010

POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Okla. — The northeast corner of Garden Grove Cemetery is a crowded one. But Jack Thorpe, the 73-year-old son of Jim Thorpe, sees room for at least one more.

“More than likely, Dad will end up right here,” Thorpe said. He pointed to a plot-size patch between a short chain-link fence and an unmarked rectangle of crumbling red brick. A step away was an undated stone the size of a shoebox lid reading, simply, “SON.”

Jack Thorpe, the man suing Jim Thorpe, Pa., for his father’s remains, stepped out of the oppressive midday sun and into the shade of a scraggly oak. He took a drag from his cigarette. Beads of sweat slid down his cheeks. Birds chattered somewhere in the bushes. Jim Thorpe’s father and a sister and a brother and more than a dozen other relatives are buried here, beneath the baking, sandy soil and the thin grass.

There is no town nearby, just a crossroads without street signs. A mile down a dirt road that was nothing more than a wagon trail when Jim Thorpe was a boy, a granite marker stands as tall and sturdy as the man it honors.

“Birth site of Jim Thorpe,” it reads.

Jack Thorpe pointed downhill toward a stand of trees. That is where the one-room log house stood. That is where a blacksmith, a Sac and Fox Indian named Hiram Thorpe, forged a family, including a boy who became the world’s greatest athlete — the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon gold medalist, a Hall of Fame football player, a major league baseball player.

Thorpe, whose veins also held Potawatomi blood from his mother’s side, remains a hero to Americans, native and otherwise — a man whose life story is part of the curriculum at schools in Oklahoma and whose name adorns buildings, highways and hospitals in what used to be Indian Territory.

“I want to see him put away properly,” Jack Thorpe said. “I want to put him where he wanted to be.”

Until then, Jim Thorpe remains far from home. He very likely never visited the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, straddling the Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. But months after Thorpe died in 1953 at age 64, his third wife, Patricia, struck a deal.

Build a monument and care for the remains, and a nifty roadside attraction and Jim Thorpe’s name for the merged towns are yours. And so it has been, for more than 50 years.

And now, Thorpe versus Thorpe.

“I don’t have anything against Jim Thorpe, Pa.,” Jack Thorpe said. “But some things are not for sale.”

Jack Thorpe waited long enough. He waited for Jim Thorpe the town to volunteer Jim Thorpe’s remains. He waited for Patricia to die, which she did in 1974. He waited for his three half-sisters to die, too, because they had differing views on their father’s final resting place and Thorpe “didn’t want to iron this out in public.” Grace, the most adamant about letting their father be, was the last to die, in 2008 at 86.

In June, with the backing of his two surviving brothers, Jack Thorpe sued the town of Jim Thorpe in United States District Court. Citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the suit contends that Jack Thorpe, as a lineal descendant, has legal claim to his father’s remains.

No trial date has been set. And the town of Jim Thorpe, which slowly rebuilt itself as a tourist center with perhaps a little nudge from the dignified memorial and mausoleum for its namesake, is debating how to proceed.

“I can see the point of both sides,” said Kate Buford, the author of “Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe,” to be published in October. “It’s a really difficult issue.”

She said that the town had honored Thorpe’s memory “very well and very sincerely.”

Jack Thorpe said that could continue.

“We’re not trying to get them to change the name of the town,” said Travis Willingham, the lawyer handling the case for Jack Thorpe. “We just want the body back. I would hope we could work this out.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gas Driller Faces Eviction From Utah Reservation

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Ute Indian tribe is threatening to kick a gas producer off an eastern Utah reservation in an escalating dispute that has the company questioning the tribe's sovereignty.

Ute Chairman Curtis R. Cesspooch made the threat after a federal judge in Salt Lake City declined to resolve the bitter dispute, opening Questar Corp. affiliates and a spin-off company to possible eviction from the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.

Judge Dale Kimball granted an injunction against tribal action July 1 but ruled Friday that the federal courts had no jurisdiction over a contract dispute. The dispute could be headed for arbitration, but a lawyer for Cesspooch said Tuesday that Questar-related companies could instead face eviction by a tribal court in 10 days.

At issue is an effort by a Questar spin-off company, QEP Resources Inc., to expand one of its five gas-producing plants on the reservation over the objections of the tribe and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cesspooch issued a strongly worded statement after the tribe's victory Friday. He was angered by Questar's argument in court that part of the reservation where it operates ceased to exist as Indian Country a century ago. The EPA's position in court papers is that all of the company's gas-processing plants are on a reservation.

''We had invited Questar onto the reservation to develop our minerals, but instead of acting as our partners, they have harmed the tribe and told us we do not exist as a people in our own reservation,'' Cesspooch said.

The Ute tribe has stopped work on an expansion of one of QEP's gas processing plants. Cesspooch said the company refused to obtain the tribe's permission or permits for the expansion.

The dispute developed as the EPA filed a complaint in 2008 against Questar Gas Management Co. for violating the Clean Air Act at all of its gas processing plants on the reservation.

Questar Corp. spun off Questar Gas Management Co. into a separate company July 1 called QEP Resources Inc.

A spokeswoman for the Denver-based company, Emily K. Kelley, said Tuesday that QEP had no comment on the court fight.

''QEP strives to be a good neighbor in all of the communities where it operates and has done such since 1922,'' she said in an e-mail.

Cesspooch said QEP has been anything but a good neighbor.

''Questar was attempting to come onto our land unlawfully to build a huge gas processing plant expansion ... in direct violation of existing federal and tribal regulatory requirements governing use and access of tribal lands,'' he said in the statement.

Cesspooch added, ''The tribe is also considering instituting a widespread eviction and banishment of Questar and its affiliates from all tribal lands if Questar continues to engage in unlawful activities resulting in trespass on the lands of the reservation that threaten the health, safety and welfare'' of more than 3,100 tribal members.

The chairman didn't immediately return a message left by The Associated Press on Tuesday. The tribe's Denver lawyer, Thomas W. Fredericks, said no eviction was under way, but that if the tribe makes good on the threat, it could be ordered by a tribal court in as quickly as 10 days.

The EPA's lead attorney on the case, Michael J. Boydston of Denver, declined to comment Tuesday. A spokesman for the agency in Denver, Richard Mylott, didn't return a phone message.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Iroquois Lacrosse Players Lose Passport Dispute With the British

Published: July 16, 2010

WESTBURY, N.Y. — The 23 players on the Iroquois national lacrosse team expected to spend this week vying for a world championship.

Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team members Drew Bucktooth and Aaron Printup wait in the lobby of their motel in Queens.
Instead, they spent Friday night divvying up their gear in the driveway outside a Hilton hotel here, having officially declared defeat in their weeklong dispute with the British government over whether they should be allowed to travel using their tribal passports.

“I felt it was coming, but I didn’t want to believe it until I actually heard it,” said Ron Cogan, 31, who played defense for the team.

The team, known as the Nationals, forfeited its first game Thursday night against England. Unless the team departed for the tournament by Friday evening, it would have had no choice but to forfeit its next game, scheduled for Saturday afternoon against Japan.

“You can’t go into a world competition and ask a team to tie one hand behind its back,” said Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, one of the six nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy.

But the team was willing to try, at least until its second forfeit appeared inevitable. The team turned a guest room at the Comfort Inn near Kennedy Airport into a diplomatic command center of sorts, and team officials made a last-ditch effort to get the visas, traveling to the British consulate in Manhattan on Friday to make a final plea. The team dined at the Cheesecake Factory at the Mall at the Source here while awaiting word on their status Friday night.

“We’d rather be playing there than sitting here,” said the team’s captain, Gewas Schindler, 34, who plays attack. “It’s hard to talk about, really.”

Discussing their saga had been all the team had been able to do the past few days while it remained marooned, forbidden from flying to the tournament because British officials would not accept its tribal documents in lieu of American or Canadian passports because of security concerns. The Iroquois passports are partly handwritten and lack the holograms and other technological features that guard against forgeries.

The dispute has superseded lacrosse, prompting diplomatic tap-dancing abroad and reigniting in the United States a centuries-old debate over the sovereignty of American Indian nations. The Iroquois refused to accept United States passports, saying they did not want to travel to an international competition on what they consider to be a foreign nation’s passport.

“It’s a tough one,” Lyons said. “We’re dealing with new regulations that have come about since 9/11, and we understand that.”

The British government first objected to the team’s travel plans last week, when it said the Iroquois players would not be allowed to travel to the tournament in Manchester, England, unless the United States vouched for their tribal passports and guaranteed the team would be allowed to re-enter the country.

The United States refused to do so until Wednesday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted the team a one-time waiver to travel without United States passports.

But later Wednesday, British officials informed the team it would not receive visas after all, dealing a blow to the team’s hopes and angering several lawmakers who had lobbied on the team’s behalf. Representative Dan Maffei, Democrat of New York, called the situation an “international embarrassment” and went so far as to question England’s ability to host the 2012 Olympics.

American diplomats discussed the case with their British counterparts on Wednesday and Thursday, but the State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley signaled Friday that the team was out of luck.

“From our standpoint, we’ve done what we can do,” Crowley told reporters in Washington. “It would appear to us at this point that the U.K. has made their final determination.”

The British government indicated that was the case. A spokeswoman for the United Kingdom Border Agency said British officials had not changed their position.

That broader issue of the validity of tribal passports — which experts in American Indian law say have been allowed for international travel for several decades, even if the letter of the law forbids them to be used as replacements for United States passports — remains unresolved.