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Expensive Week: Butte County Legal Bill Tops $600,000 to Stop Mechoopda Casino

Last week ICTMN explained in detail the hoops that the Butte County Board of Supervisors are jumping though in order to block a casino that is being built by the local Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria.

RELATED: A Big Win for a Small California Tribe

This week, a representative from the Chico Enterprise Record sent a California Public Records Act request to the County for an update on the legal tab; as of today, the balance is around the $600,000 mark. And it keeps on climbing.

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. Other neighboring California Native American Nations had investigated their own ventures in the gaming industry and established several successful ventures in Butte and neighboring counties, so the Mechoopda 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 tribe, their opinion that the parcel of land the Tribe had purchased would 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, however, and provided a report by a professional arguing against the Tribes right to proceed.

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That wasn’t the first time the County had tried to block the Mechoopda. The County went so far as to hire an expert to give the opinion that the tribe was not originally from Chico, but other nearby areas, thereby negating their own origin story. This opinion, in addition to the fact that the Mechoopda were removed from their land back in the early days of the Counties’ history have not been lost on tribal members or allies. The Gold Rush and its consequences has had long lasting effects on local politics. On the upside, there is strong support for tribal sovereignty in the college town of Chico and allies are taking to social media to spread the word. Using the hashtag ‘friendsofmechoopda’, activists are helping to bring attention to the issue.

The proposed 42,000 foot casino would take up only about 91 acres of the 625 that the Department of the Interior holds in trust for the Chico Rancheria band. Located outside of the City center along intersecting stretches of two lane highways, the casino could bring untold millions to the county. Senator Doug LaMalfa shared in an interview on local tv station Action News Now, “It's one thing to have trust land but it's another further thing to have tribal gaming on those lands, so if that process is completed and it hasn't gone through a referendum then the tribe has every right to pursue the gaming process.” Vice Chair of the Mechoopda Tribe, Sandra Knight shared a similar sentiment, adding in the same interview, "they went after the tribe at it's core, saying that we were a manufactured tribe...this is just a main economic development project for the tribe that will create funding for future generations; childcare, healthcare, all of those things that we haven't been able to provide for our members.”

Tribal members and activists agree: they are in for a long, bitter legal battle. Spirits remain high at tribal headquarters, however, and the scuttlebutt in Butte County seems to lean heavily in the Mechoopdas’ favor. If the success of the neighboring tribes’ outfits is any indication, the Mechoopda should find themselves in proverbial green pastures sometime in the future.

Samuel White Swan-Perkins is a freelance journalist, blogger and cultural consultant. He resides in Butte County, enjoys attending powwows and Native events across the State. Sam has been a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society for going on 10 years. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family and elders and tending to his tobacco plants.