Marquez reiterates IGRA needs changes

On April 3, Deron Marquez yielded chairmanship of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to the vice chairman during his last term, Henry Duro. Duro immediately stated to the San Bernardino regional media in southern California that he would continue the programs and policies of his predecessor.

So it remains relevant that in his last weeks as chairman, Marquez paid a visit to Washington to reiterate the tribe’s support for amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. A bill to amend IGRA is expected to reach the Senate floor during this second session of the current 109th Congress, following its passage March 29 by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. After spirited exchanges between committee members over amendments to Senate Bill 2078, a floor fight is possible. So are unforeseen amendments to IGRA, a prospect many tribes have resisted.

Marquez found time for an interview with Indian Country Today at the end of a long week. Speaking with conviction before the bill’s passage out of committee, he maintained that IGRA reform isn’t optional. “It’s got to be done ... You want to end Indian gaming as we know it, this reservation shopping will do it.”

Reservation shopping is the term for the practice of tribes seeking casino sites far from a home reservation or ancestral area, often at the instigation of non-Indian investors looking for big financial returns. (In terms of gaming profits, casinos sited near population centers or traffic arteries are far more lucrative than those on remote reservations.) A comparative handful of such initiatives have ever succeeded, but they’ve raised a ruckus out of all proportion to their success rate as local communities across the nation have cried foul. Their outcries have been noted in Congress, to say the least.

Seventy miles east of Los Angeles, the San Manuel Band has been the target of five tribes seeking to use its ancestral land for gaming purposes. Another in Nevada is among the five seeking San Manuel land. The band supports only the application of the Chimahuevi, who have ancestral ties to the San Manuel region.

Wilson Pipestem, a Washington-based representative of the San Manuel Band who was present at the interview with Marquez, and director of tribal communications Jacob Coin both emphasized that San Manuel’s resolve against reservation shopping has nothing to do with protecting its highly profitable casino from competition. The band is determined, rather, to protect its ancestral lands. “The casinos are a secondary issue,” Marquez added.

He estimated that more than 40 tribes support amending IGRA to end reservation shopping, including most of the tribes in United South and Eastern Tribes, the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Nations and the California Tribal Business Alliance. San Manuel is a member of the National Indian Gaming Association, which has led Indian country’s opposition to IGRA reform. Most NIGA member tribes, as well as others, consider several of the provisions in S. 2078 infringements on tribal sovereignty.

Without defying their view of it, Marquez offered a somewhat different perspective. “The realities of sovereignty protection are more complex today than they have been.”