Last month, the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected and approved applications for off-reservation applications to put land into federal trust by tribes in New Mexico and California. It approved two applications and disapproved one application in the Golden State.
The BIA only rarely allows tribes to put lands acquired after 1988 into federal trust. Even more rare, it allows them to put lands that are at any significant distance from a reservation into trust.
The BIA rejected the proposal of the Jemez Pueblo, located near Albuquerque, to put 70 acres into trust in Anthony, New Mexico, near the Texas border, citing the distance from its reservation.
According to BIA Director Larry Echo Hawk, “With the Pueblo of Jemez, we had significant concerns about the tribe’s ability to effectively exercise jurisdiction over a parcel nearly 300 miles from its existing reservation.”
Echo Hawk also questioned the ability of the tribe to exercise direct governmental control over the parcel, since it has entered into several intergovernmental services agreements with surrounding municipalities.
The tribe responded, “The decision also ignores the express terms of the agreement. The Pueblo expressly reserves the right to provide all the services, thereby, exercising total jurisdiction over the land. The agreement does exactly what the letter says is lacking.”
The tribe has proposed to build a $55 million casino and hotel. The tribe’s financial backer, art dealer Gerald Peters, says he and his partners will look at other options.
In California, the BIA approved the land-into-trust applications for the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Yuba County and North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in Madera County. Rancherias are what many Indian reservations in California are called. In a statement, Echo Hawk said, “Both tribes have historical connections to the proposed gaming sites, and both proposals have strong support from the local community, which are important factors in our review.”
The tribes submitted applications under the “Secretarial Determination” exception of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, one of a few cases that allows tribes to put land into trust for gaming if the Interior Department determines that it would benefit the tribe and not hurt the surrounding community.
Both the North Fork site and the Enterprise site are about 36 miles from their original reservations. Both are closer to urban centers than their original reservations. The Enterprise Rancheria casino would be about 40 miles from Sacramento and the North Fork casino would be 30 miles from Fresno.
The Enterprise site of 40 acres is about five miles from the city of Marysville, in an area zoned for “sports and entertainment.” It plans a 1,700-slot casino with a 170-room hotel. The tribe has a memorandum of understanding with both the city and Yuba County to mitigate adverse effects of the casino, something that Echo Hawk quoted as being one of the factors in favor of his decision.
The North Fork site is 305 acres. Its casino would have 2,500 slots and a 200-room hotel.
California Governor Jerry Brown has a veto on both sites, according to federal law. He has one year to make that determination or the sites will automatically be made reservation land. The tribes would also need to make a gaming compact with the state before either of them could operate a casino. Those compacts would have to be ratified by the legislature.
The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, owners of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, reacted to the approval of the land transfer for the North Fork tribe with a promise to ask Governor Brown to veto the proposal. Reggie Lewis, tribal chairman, said the decisions open the way to “unrestricted off-reservation gaming across the United States.”