- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and the Little Rock Port Authority have drafted a memorandum of understanding over the use of land the tribe owns near the port that has caused some in the area to fear a casino will be opened.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1Pj0Bbu) that draft includes protections for tribal burial grounds and artifacts if any are discovered during planned expansion of the port, asking the tribe and port to consult on matters of mutual interest and for the tribe to work with the port on future land purchases in “areas of interest” to the port.

The tribe acquired the land for $1.4 million in separate 80 acre purchases in after researchers discovered Quapaw artifacts, the graves of Quapaw ancestors and the graves of slaves.

The Quapaw Tribe lived in Arkansas for centuries before being forcibly moved west in the 1800s by the U.S. government.

The tribe has asked that the land be placed in federal trust, removing it from most state and local jurisdictions. The request is opposed by city and state officials and has led to questions about whether a casino is planned, which the tribe has denied.

“This agreement puts four corners around what we can and cannot do around that port,” Quapaw Chairman John Berrey said. “We don’t want to create any controversy around the port. We want to be a good neighbor.”

The port is seeking input on the draft from people including members of the city Board of Directors, which would have to approve it, and Mayor Mark Stodola, who wants the tribe to sell the land to the city or to agree to remain in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. That keeps the land subject to the city’s planning and zoning ordinances and commissions.

The draft is not specific about what will or won’t be done with the property.

“It’s a work in progress,” Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day said. “I know there’s a lot of concern in the community about a gaming facility.”

Berrey said the tribe is continuing to grow peas on the land and has considered several ideas for use of the property, but has made no decisions and is focusing now on having a more extensive archaeological study done.

“All we’re concerned about right now is protecting the grave sites that are there,” Berrey said.

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