The Obama administration has demonstrated a unique working relationship with Indian Country, and a decision last month by the Interior Department extends that friendly alliance to Indian gaming. Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, announced that he has withdrawn a controversial memo that was issued in January 2008 that rejected any off-reservation land request.
Echo Hawk told a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Milwaukee, that the memorandum, released by Bush administration Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, was “unnecessary and was issued without the benefit of tribal consultation.”
“We will proceed to process off-reservation gaming applications in a transparent manner, consistent with existing law,” Echo Hawk said.
The 2008 memo limited any off-reservation casino to land that was close to the reservation, so tribal members could “commute” to any jobs made available.
Echo Hawk says the Interior Department would evaluate applications under just three criteria.
• The Interior Department must acquire the land for the tribe’s benefit.
• The acquisition must be in the best interests of the tribe and the surrounding community, and public comment will be considered.
• The governor of the state where the land is located must agree to the acquisition—whether or not the tribe itself is actually located in that state—and the tribe must enter into a tribal-state gaming compact to regulate gambling operations.
Since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was approved in 1988, only five tribes have been able to accomplish taking land into trust for gaming purposes.
The decision has had immediate effects on more than 20 tribes stretching from Massachusetts to Washington state.