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BIA Approves Ione Band’s Gaming Land Application; Denies Scotts Valley Band

One indigenous nation in California has reason to celebrate and another has cause for disappointment after the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued determinations on two tribal gaming applications, May 25.

The BIA announced in a media release that Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Donald “Del” Laverdure has approved the Ione Band of Miwok Indians’ application to have approximately 228 acres of land in Amador County, California, taken into trust on its behalf for gaming purposes. The approval was issued under the “equal footing exceptions” provision of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

“The Ione Band of Miwok Indians’ gaming application received a careful and thorough review, allowing us to determine that it met the stringent conditions set out by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Laverdure said. “The Ione Band has demonstrated both a modern and historical connection to the lands it sought to have placed in federal trust, as well as a reasonable temporal connection between the date the land is acquired and the date the tribe was restored to federal recognition status.”

At the same time, Laverdure denied an application from the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians to take approximately 30 acres of land into trust for a gaming facility under IGRA’s “restored lands” provision. The land is an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County is approximately 80 miles south of the tribe’s headquarters near Lakeport, California.

“After closely reviewing the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians’ fee-to-trust application for a gaming facility in Contra Costa County, we determined that the Band’s parcels near the city of Richmond did not qualify as restored lands under IGRA’s equal footing exceptions because it could not demonstrate it had a significant historical connection to the site,” Laverdure said. However, the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians could amend its fee-to-trust application for a different purpose, or submit a new gaming application for other lands, Laverdure said.

Neither the Ione Band nor the Scotts Valley Band has existing trust lands.

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A message left with Scotts Valley Band chairman Donald Arnold was not immediately returned. An exuberant Ione Chairwoman Yvonne Miller was reached at the band’s headquarters. “We’re very happy and we’re very excited about this,” Miller said. “Our application has been in for about 10 years and on top of that we’ve been trying to get land into trust for over 100 years.”

Millers said the band has not yet “formulated” its casino plans yet, but “we are going forward. We have a lot of ideas. We do have an investor and our investor is looking to get more backing,” she said. A 30-day period following the BIA determination is open for opponents to challenge the decision. “So we’re still in limbo for that period of time,” Miller said.

Miller said there was opposition to the band’s application for gaming trust land from Costa County. “But they oppose every single one that comes through. We don’t know what they’ll be doing at this point. We’ve heard they will oppose it and we’ve heard they won’t, so we’ll just have to wait and see.” Miller said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is famously opposed to Indian gaming, opposed the Ione’s application, but not overtly, Miller said. “She’s opposed to all gaming just on principle, but she did not openly oppose us. We went back to Washington, D.C. in January for a meeting with her staff [member] and he told us she didn’t directly oppose our application,” Miller said.

The IGRA generally prohibits gaming on lands acquired after its enactment in 1988, but provides a number of exceptions to that rule, including lands taken into trust for settlement of a land claim, as part of an initial reservation, or as restoration of lands for a tribe that is restored to federal recognition in order to place a tribe on “equal footing” with other nations.

The Ione Band has around 750 members and is proposing to develop a Class III casino on the 228 acres located near Plymouth where its headquarters are located and approximately 11 miles from the City of Ione. The tribe submitted its initial fee-to-trust application for the gaming site in 2005 and the next year the Interior Department determined that the tribe constituted a “restored tribe,” and that the proposed gaming site constituted “restored lands” under IGRA. In determining that the Band constituted a ‘restored tribe” for purposes of IGRA, the department concluded that the Band was once recognized by the federal government, but was treated as a terminated tribe for many years – the media release did not specify the period of termination. The Interior Department reaffirmed the Ione Band’s federal status in 1994 and renewed its government-to-government relationship with the band. In determining that the proposed gaming site constituted “restored lands,” Interior concluded that the Band had both a modern and historical connection to the proposed gaming site as well as a “reasonable” time connection between the date the land was acquired and when it was restored.

The media release notes that the Ione Band decision marks the first Indian gaming application completed under IGRA’s restored lands exception since September 2008. The Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar ruling virtually froze land-into-trust applications until last year following a directive from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to the BIA to move forward with them. The BIA has issued a number of reservation gaming land determinations under provisions other than the “restored lands’ exception last year. The agency:

  • denied an application from the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians of Wisconsin for 330 acres of land in New York State to building an off reservation casino more than 1,000 miles from its land base in Wisconsin.
  • denied a restored lands application for the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians for a gaming facility more than 100 miles from its existing tribal lands in Mendocino County. The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians had sought to develop a gaming facility in Richmond, California, more than 100 miles from its existing tribal lands in Mendocino County.
  • denied a trust application from the Pueblo of Jemez for a proposed casino in Dona Ana County near the New Mexico-Texas border almost 300 miles away from its reservation northwest of Albuquerque.
  • approved a trust application for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California, for 80 acres of land for gaming in Madera County located approximately four miles from its headquarters.
  • approved a trust application for the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California in Yuba County for 40 acres of off reservation land for gaming 36 miles from its headquarters, and
  • approved an application from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan to relocate an off-reservation casino closer to its government headquarters. The current off reservation casino is around 90 miles from its headquarters; the relocated facility will be around 70 miles from headquarters.