The Cowlitz Indian Tribe, federally recognized in 2000, received news from the Bureau of Indian Affairs days before Christmas that they can establish a 152-acre reservation on Interstate 5 near La Center, Washington, and build their proposed mega-casino, reported The Seattle Times.
The tribe applied in 2002 to establish the reservation, intending to create a $510 million casino-hotel complex. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act prohibits gaming on lands acquired in trust after its 1988 enactment. But the Cowlitz Tribe found a loophole.
The Cowlitz qualified for the "equal footing" exception, directed at landless tribes with sufficient members and no established reservation.
"This project will allow the Cowlitz Tribe to create hundreds of jobs and invest in other forms of economic development. It will also allow the tribe to begin the restoration of its homelands," Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk said, in a statement released by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Cowlitz Tribe now plans to meet with its development partners Salishan-Mohegan. The joint venture is led by Cowlitz tribal member David Barnett, the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki Indians of California.
Aside from future legal challenges that could cause delays, Cowlitz Tribe Chairman William Iyall predicted it would take two years before construction started on the first phase, reported The Seattle Times.
But according to the casino's opponents, the tribe should hold its celebration. Tom Hunt, spokesman for the anti-casino group Citizens Against Reservation Shopping forewarned: “There will be protracted battles here," reported The Columbian.
The next protests will come from nearby competitor Spirit Mountain casino, run by the Grande Ronde about 60 miles southwest of Portland. "It would clearly mean a significant economic impact for us and for Oregon," said Grand Ronde spokesman Justin Martin to The Seattle Times. "This is not a done deal by any stretch."
Political views are divided. State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, among other 18th District legislators, staunchly disapproves of the casino, though doubts they can reverse federal approval. “I think it’s a huge mistake. It’s absolutely unnecessary,” Orcutt said to The Columbian. “The Cowlitz tribe, as a whole, is not an impoverished tribe. They’ve never been a reservation tribe, therefore, there’s no reason for them to have the land. They’re certainly not in need of more money."
Political proponents generally cite the promise of more than 3,000 jobs. “I think its great,” said Ed Barnes, former longtime president of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, to The Columbian. “We got over 13 percent unemployment here, and nobody else is creating jobs. This should have been started two years ago.”