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A Big Win for a Small California Tribe

An important decision by a Federal judge has a small band of California Natives in excellent spirits this week.

On Friday, Justice Frederick J. Scullin ruled against a request made by Butte County, California, to block a proposed casino for the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria on a parcel of land somewhere near the City of Chico.

The history of the case goes all the way back to 1996, when the Mechoopda purchased a plot of land within city limits with the intent to build a casino. Several other California Nations had investigated their own ventures in the gaming industry and established several successful ventures in Butte and neighboring counties, so the Tribe began the long and arduous process of working with the Department of Justice and other federal government entities to get the ball rolling. In 2002 the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) provided, at the request of the Mechoopda, their per view that the parcel of land the Tribe had purchased would, in fact, meet the definition of “”restored land” and gave the Mechoopda the OK to proceed. In 2006, papers were filed to take the 625 acre parcel “into trust”. Officials at Butte County objected and provided a report by a professional arguing against the Tribes right to proceed.

Fast forward through several rounds of remand; when the Court considered the plaintiffs motion to clarify, it was stated on record, "I think the remand is clear on its face that the matter (Case 1:08-cv-00519-FJS Document 128 Filed 07/15/16 Page 8 of 17 goes back before the Department of the Interior for [its] consideration, taking into consideration the [2006] Beckham report and other submissions you've made since then. Whatever else the Department of Interior may feel may be relevant to the decision as to the issues involved, I think that's [its] prerogative."

The Court sided with the tribe on additional points, which all culminated in a decision stating that Butte County failed to show that the federal government’s decision to take land into trust was unfounded. “The Mechoopda Indian Tribe looks forward to advancing our proposed casino project. In doing so, we plan to drive economic development in Butte County for years to come,” said Tribal Chairman Dennis Ramirez in a statement to the press.

Butte County lies in the heart of California's gold country and is the territorial home of the Mechoopda. The Tribe was forcibly removed from the Chico area and marched at gunpoint by US Army soldiers to Covelo, CA in 1863. This is the second time the County has attempted to halt the tribe's efforts to establish a casino in the area.

“The U.S. Department of Interior provided Butte County with ample opportunities to submit and rebut material as well as time to develop the reasoning behind its arguments. Ultimately, Butte County failed to do so,” Mechoopda Chairman Ramirez continued. “We thank Judge Scullin for recognizing the weaknesses in Butte County’s arguments and for acknowledging our historical connection to the land.”

Samuel White Swan-Perkins (Tsalagi/Welsh/Siksika/German) is a freelance journalist and owner of White Swan-Perkins Cultural Consulting, based out of Occupied Mechoopda Territory in Chico, CA. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing, hiking and exploring the countryside with his friends and family.