The controversial casino project of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Glendale, Arizona, got a huge boost last month when Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, who heads the Indian Affairs division of the Interior Department, told federal officials he was looking favorably upon a land-into-trust request from the tribe.
The Tohono O’odham are based in Tucson, and the land is in central Arizona, just west of Phoenix, which has enraged Phoenix-area tribes.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community complained that the Tohono O’odham are skirting the law that established tribal gaming in the state.
“Arizona voters approved state-tribal gaming policy limiting casinos to existing reservations in 2002,” said SRPMIC President Diane Enos. “To that end, for Washburn to announce his decision on the land now is questionable, given that Congress has yet to clarify its intent on this issue—specifically, that of new reservations being created for gaming purposes.”
The casino has been a source of contention for years.
A federal law in 1996 permitted the O’odham to replace lands lost to a federal dam built in Southern Arizona with unincorporated parcels in the Phoenix area. The tribe bought the Glendale parcel in 2003. Lawsuits and efforts by Arizona Congressman Trent Franks have all gone the O’odham’s way, and even the city of Glendale recently dropped efforts to halt the casino.
Another Phoenix-area tribe says the impact of the ruling is unclear, but the tribe will remain diligent.
“While our community is disappointed by today’s decision, we are not surprised,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Gregory Mendoza. “As Assistant Secretary Washburn noted, he was faced with interpreting an ambiguous provision of a law passed by Congress decades ago. That’s precisely why our community believes Congress is the best entity to decide this matter and uphold the will of Arizona’s voters.”