Periodic drought in northeast Kansas is not a stranger to any of us who live in this region. Since the 1970s the Kickapoo Tribe has been planning to develop a water storage project on its reservation to provide residents a dependable water supply for present and future housing, economic development, fire protection, and agricultural pursuits at the Tribal farming enterprise. Developable groundwater is not available on the reservation; this was established years ago by both the Kansas and the United States Geological Surveys.
The Tribe supported the efforts of the Nemaha Brown Watershed District in those early years to fund and draft in 1978 a General Plan for the development of the Delaware River watershed. In the 1980s and 1990s the Tribe and Nemaha Brown worked cooperatively to jointly plan and propose a storage project at a location on Plum Creek on the Reservation. Congress approved the project in 1998. A dispute erupted over the refusal of some of the landowners to sell their property for the project, and that stalled the project for several years. Over the past decade the Tribe has purchased several parcels of land in the Plum Creek drainage where the project would be located. It will continue those efforts, offering fair market value or land exchanges where possible.
In September, after several years of technical negotiations, the Tribe and the State of Kansas’ Department of Agriculture entered into an agreement that sets out the Tribe’s water right and how that water right is to be administered by the State of Kansas on the Delaware River and its tributaries. An important next step is to have the Congress of the United States approve the water right, and the Tribe is working with the Kansas Congressional delegation to draft legislation for that purpose. The Tribe is seeking support for its efforts from local organizations and governments in northeast Kansas.
In recent weeks the Brown County Commissioners and the Hiawatha City Commission met to consider a request from the Tribe to support this effort. This federal legislation would not approve or fund a project on Plum Creek. As the Tribal representatives stated at the meeting with the county commissioners, it intends to convene meetings with the city and county, the state, the United States and local landowners to look at resizing and redesigning the Plum Creek Project. That effort will take time. Although the city and county commissioners declined at this time to send letters of support to the delegation, citing the lack of information, the Tribe believes that over time all of these questions will be answered to the satisfaction of all interested parties.
The Tribe would like people to know of all the positive things that it and its members are doing for Brown County and northeast Kansas. In collaboration with the Golden Eagle Casino, the Tribe believes strongly in giving back to the community by supporting organizations that impact the lives of friends and neighbors in surrounding communities. A list of these organizations includes the Atchison Family YMCA, the City of Muscotah, the Salvation Army, the Hiawatha Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, the Amy Thompson Run, the Wakonda Indian Festival, the Jayhawk Area on Aging, the Dragoon Creek Motorcross, Horton High School, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, the Sabetha Chamber of Commerce, the Brown County Humane Society, and the Atchison County Rural Volunteer Fire Department.
We are leading in innovative and creative ways to continue to grow by supporting and partnering with communities in Brown County through economic development and growth. Indian gaming has strengthened local economies by providing jobs, supporting local vendors, boosting tourism, and generating tax revenues for state and federal coffers. The Golden Eagle Casino is a significant employer for surrounding counties. In 2016, 59 percent of the employees at the Casino were non-Native folks from Brown County and beyond. The most recent economic data indicates that in 2016, the Tribe and the Casino spent about $8 million contracting with vendors within Brown County. Between the Tribal and Casino employees, more than $10 million is expended on salaries and benefits annually. All of the salaries of these employees are invested and reinvested in the local economies of the town surrounding the Reservation.
We also contribute to the overall community health through federally funded programs such as the Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country, known as Kickapoo Health and Wellness. The KHW supports, collaborates, and partners with 23 community, state, and local entities committed to improving the overall health of Kansans. The Tribe’s Health and Wellness Coalition received the 2016 Community Health Champion Award for its commitment to building a healthier Kansas.
The Tribe intends to continue to move forward in a positive direction with all residents, businesses and governmental entities in northeast Kansas. The Reservation has been our home since 1832 and we have the goal of making our beautiful home here a better place for all residents.
Let’s work together to achieve that goal.