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Northern California tribal leader airs concerns with Obama

(MCT) – Leslie Lohse, leader of a small band of Indians in Tehama County, recently found herself speaking directly to President Barack Obama – one chief of state to another.

“It’s pretty exciting that the president did follow through on his promise to summit with tribal leaders,” Lohse said of her history-making conversation. “He respected our sovereignty and reassured us we do have a government-to-government relationship.”

Lohse, leader of the 300-member Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians that operates a casino near Corning, was one of several Northern California chiefs who met with Obama Nov. 5 at the largest-ever gathering of tribal leaders.

Keeping a campaign promise, the president hosted 386 heads of state – leaders from more than half of the nation’s 564 federally recognized Indian tribes.

Obama, who took 10 comments and questions from the leaders, called on Lohse, who asked him to stop landless tribes backed by outside developers from opening casinos outside their traditional territories.

The practice, known as reservation shopping, requires approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Lohse told Obama the shopping is “causing some issues between the gaming tribes – maybe nine gaming tribes – and with the local communities and our state itself.”

Lohse’s tribe recently spent several hundred thousand dollars fighting off an attempt by a homeless Plumas County tribe to establish a land base – and a casino – 10 miles north of its own Rolling Hills Casino on Interstate 5, Lohse told The Bee.

The Plumas County tribe was backed by a New York investor who financed an environmental review that went to the federal government, Lohse said.

The investor abandoned the effort when he saw how expensive and complicated the process would be, said Lohse, who has a background as a legal secretary. Nevertheless, she said, the defense diverted resources from tribal operations and services.

“I basically asked (Obama) to make sure the Department of the Interior was able to put together some policies and rules that would not likely be circumvented by investors who try to get homeless tribes to take land in trust in other tribes’ territories,” Lohse said.

It appears ethnologists hired by investors are rewriting California Indian history “so they can get into urban settings and put in a casino,” she added, calling the practice divisive and culturally damaging.

She also asked Obama to stop a move in Congress to cut a federal program that helps landless tribes seeking economic projects with single-source contracts.

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According to a transcript of the meeting, other chiefs applauded Lohse when she asked Obama to “not inhibit our growth – so we can purchase some of our lands back” through government-funded economic-development projects “and grow from that, instead of being dependent

on gaming.”

Obama urged Lohse and other tribal leaders to take their cases directly to the secretary of the Interior and other ranking federal officials who attended the summit.

“I want intensive discussion and dialogue with them,” Obama said. “Present to them your concerns, your specific recommendations.”

Lohse said Obama signed a memorandum “basically ordering his Cabinet members and department heads to come up with a consultation process in 90 days that would provide the framework on how we consult on agriculture, health, education, climate change and natural resources.”

The most significant aspect of the hour Obama spent with the chiefs was his willingness “to listen and resolve some of the issues we’ve been facing over the years,” Lohse said. “He understood about how tribal people have kind of been on the outside looking in throughout history.”

Also attending the summit were Jessica Taveras of the United Auburn Indian Community that operates Thunder Valley Casino, and Marshall McKay of Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which operates the Cache Creek Casino.





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(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.