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Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California,
Wednesday, December 28, 2005, Vol 33, No. 7, Page
A1, column 1
BIA and Arnold say “no” to casino
Using Indian allotment land has become the new angle for off-reservation shopping.
by Liz Bowen, Pioneer Press Assistant Editor
YREKA – First the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs mailed a stop order on Dec. 9, 2005. Then on Dec. 19, 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger demanded a “dispute resolution” for “breaches” of the State and Tribal Compact.
Both the federal and state governments do not believe that the Alturas Rancheria owns title-free Indian allotment land in Siskiyou County.
The State is also concerned that construction for a casino has begun on non-Indian lands, which is a violation of the Compact.
On Dec. 5, 2005, BIA officials visited the site for the Alturas Rancheria’s Shasta Mountain Casino just south of the City of Yreka and found a road had been developed to the casino site, where a cement slab was recently poured.
Darren Rose is claiming full title to the Benter (also called Bender) allotment, where he has said the casino will be built. But in reality, the land has additional owners. Some of these owners are dead and probate has not been completed. And several owners have not sided with Rose, who was enrolled in the Karuk Tribe of California, but recently adopted into the Alturas Rancheria and is now vice-chairman.
In the letter dated Dec. 9, 2005, officials from the BIA wrote to Attorney Mark A. Levitan, who represents Alturas Rancheria, stating, “… we have no explanation as to why you believe the Alturas Rancheria has the authority to commence construction or otherwise exert jurisdiction over the subject allotment.”
With both governments alleging violations, it looks like the Rancheria has put the cart before the horse and may lose its opportunity to build a second casino. The Governor has requested a “meet and confer” by the Rancheria on Dec. 29, 2005 and the Rancheria has 60 days to cure the violations. There is also a timely appeals process that can be followed with the BIA.
The Alturas Rancheria has claimed for more than a year that will be opening the Shasta Mountain Casino. For the last six months, the Yreka community has been a buzz, because the Rancheria began building a road and poured a cement foundation using local contractors and patronizing local businesses for materials.
Last month, the Rancheria offered its environmental assessment to the public. But, according to the BIA letter and California governor’s letter, the environmental assessment does not meet Indian Gaming criteria – another violation.
During the BIA on-site visit, officials noted that a historical cabin had been leveled and other cultural sites had not been fully protected under the State or National Historic Preservation Acts. Also federal agencies had not been consulted regarding the Endangered Species Act.
Additionally, the watchdog organization called Stand Up For California has written a letter to state Senator Sam Aanestad asking him to request a formal opinion from the State Attorney General on the definition of Indian lands in California that are eligible for gaming.
“Land must meet the standards of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” said Director Cheryl Schmit, who also claims that the Rancheria did not exercise governance over the allotment land, before the important date of 1988. This is when the U.S. Congress established the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
In general, only land that is within the boundaries of a Reservation can be used for a gaming casino. But, Indian land that is in the correct kind of “trust” can also be used. The Benter or Bender allotment does not meet the criteria for the Alturas Rancheria or Rose.
Off-reservation shopping has become big business for gaming management companies, who encourage Tribes to out-maneuver the Indian Gaming rules. Now, Schmit said that off-reservation shopping has expanded to include “allottee shopping.”
“Allotment lands are held in trust for individuals by the United States,” said Schmit. She also explains that some allotment land is held in “fractional interest,” which continues to complicate the definition of “trust” land.
In her letter to Senator Aanestad, Schmit claims that the Alturas Rancheria is constructing a gaming facility on fractional interest allotment land over which it did not exercise governance, before it began the casino proposal process.
Recent history of the Alturas Rancheria
The Rancheria received a Compact from, then, Governor Gray Davis in 1999, which gave it the opportunity to build two casinos. The stipulation is that the casinos must be on its Reservation land. That land is in the rural area of Alturas in the County of Modoc.
As a result, a small 99-slot casino was built by the Rancheria in Alturas. Yet through the state Indian Gaming laws, the Rancheria is still considered a non-gaming Tribe, because the law says that a Tribe must be operating at least 350-slot machines in a casino for it to be considered a “gaming” Tribe.
So the Alturas Rancheria also receives $1.2 million a year, in quarterly installments, as a non-gaming Tribe.
Another kicker to the situation is that the Rancheria only boasts five adult members and a handful of children. But the Rancheria has been working with Monteau and Peebles, a national law firm specializing in federal Indian law, to establish a second casino in Siskiyou County. Siskiyou is not within the historical boundaries of the Rancheria and is a five-hour drive from the Rancheria’s Reservation.
In 1988, U.S. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, called IGRA, which established rules for casinos and gaming on Tribal Reservations or Trust land that met the criteria. Also as part of IGRA, each state is expected to establish contracts or Compacts with individual Tribes.
In 1999, Governor Gray Davis made Compacts with a number of California Tribes, which facilitated a boom in Indian Gaming casinos.
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