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Feinstein Opposes Rancherias' Trust Land Approvals for Gaming

Sen. Diane Feinstein has taken her fight against what she calls “off reservation gaming” to California’s governor.

In a September 23 letter, Feinstein urged Gov. Jerry Brown to reject the Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) approval of applications to take land into trust for gaming facilities for two California rancherias: the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Yuba County and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in Madera County. The proposals will “strain State and local resources and public services, and they should be denied,” Feinstein wrote.

Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk approved both applications in early September. Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians is headquartered in Butte County, 36 miles from its proposed 40-acre gaming site. The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is headquartered in Madera County, California, 36 miles from its proposed 305-acre gaming site. Both tribes submitted applications under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s “Secretarial Determination” exception (or Two Part Determination), which allows tribes to conduct gaming on lands outside of their existing reservation where the Department determines that it would be in the best interest of the tribe and its members, and not detrimental to the surrounding community. Brown has one year to concur with Echo Hawk’s approval.

Enterprise Rancheria Chairwoman Glenda Nelson, defended her tribe’s right to trust land at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. The Enterprise Rancheria has sought trust land for gaming for more than a decade, she said. In an ironic twist, other tribes in the region that were terminated received trust land when their tribal status was restored and were able to exercise their rights to gaming as an economic development strategy years ago, she said. “We’ve always fought for our sovereign rights, but we were never terminated. We had to go through the Two Part Determination. My argument is that we should at least have the same rights as restored tribes, but not less.”

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act generally prohibits Indian gaming on land acquired after the act was passed in 1988. The Two Part Determination provides exceptions to the prohibition. But the process is so rigorous that only five applications have been approved since 1988.

Feinstein told Brown that “off reservation gaming proposals” received "overwhelming opposition” from California voters in the year 2000. The referendum “allowed tribes to operate casinos provided that they did so ‘on Indian lands,’” Feinstein said.

But Nelson says that the approved land is Indian land. “It’s not off reservation. Our Indian Health Service has always been there in Yuba County and when the BIA came out and put our (other) land in trust the noted that our people live in Yuba County all up and down the Feather River drainage.”

History also backs Nelson’s claim that the proposed trust land is Indian land. Rancherias were created to compensate indigenous peoples of the area for being dispossessed of their aboriginal lands. Between 1851 and 1852, 18 treaties were negotiated between the United States Government and more than 100 California Indian Tribes and Bands, according to Native Arts. The treaties called for reservations of more than eight million acres for the tribes, but on July 8, 1852, the U.S. Senate secretly rejected the treaties and from 1852 to 1854 Indian Tribes were forcibly removed to temporary reservations, the article says. In the early 1900s a researcher discovered the unratified treaties and reformers petitioned Congress to appropriate money to provide land for the homeless American Indians of California. Congress appropriated the money to purchase 9,000 acres of land that became 50 separate Rancherias.

Feinstein says the Interior Department’s assertion that the proposed casinos enjoy strong community support “is simply false.” She claims that “only Yuba county” supports the project and that three of the officials polled by Interior “expressed outright opposition while the remaining 15—including myself—did not respond.” She says she never received the letter and would have opposed the trust land approval if she had.

According to the Enterprise Rancheria’s website, the tribe has “voluntarily entered into two separate enforceable agreements” with Yuba County in December 2002 and with the City of Marysville in August 2005. “These comprehensive agreements call for over $75 million in contributions over 15 years to fund an array of local public safety, education, infrastructure and parks, housing, economic development, employment, and other local projects.” Additionally the tribe has agreed to mitigate possible significant improves through several environmental and socio-economic safeguards detailed in the Environment Impact Statement, the site says.