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Off-Reservation Gaming Scrutinized

Wyandotte Nation appeals to Congress

WASHINGTON - After a loss in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals the
Wyandotte Nation turned their attention to an appeal to Congress in an
attempt to save their Class II casino in Kansas City, Kan.

At an oversight hearing on off-reservation gaming before the House
Resources Committee, Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandotte Nation told
the story of the nation's attempt to create economic development in the
city which at one time bore their name.

The Wyandotte Nation operated a Class II gaming facility on trust land
within the limits of Kansas City. The NIGC, on the basis of a memo from a
part time commission attorney said the land was not Indian land for the
purpose of gaming.

The nation argues that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does in fact allow
gaming on the land held in trust that was at one time the homeland of the
Wyandotte. The city of Kansas City was originally named Wyandotte City and
names of streets within Kansas City contain the names of many past
Wyandotte leaders.

Authorities from the state raided the casino, arrested the manager and
others and closed the facility.

"Laws only apply to the Wyandottes if they can be used against us. We have
followed the law to the letter," Chief Bearskin told the committee.

"Right now the law is being distorted and used against the Wyandotte
Nation, and this is not right, but historically that has always been the
case," he said.

Ranking committee member, Don Young, R-Alaska, said the entire issue could
have been avoided, yet it happened because someone dropped the ball.
"Someone better get their act together," Young said.

Casino Manager Ellis Enyart was arrested in the state authorized raid, but
according to Rex Hackler, spokesman for the nation, charges against Enyart
have been dropped. He said a state court ruled the state had no
jurisdiction.

Chief Bearskin told the Resources Committee that on April 2, less than a
year after opening, the state sent in armed troopers, threatened patrons
and workers, seized all assets and arrested the manager.

Attorney General Phil Kline said he was enforcing the laws of Kansas.

"How can this happen? It turns out that the Attorney General's actions,
namely that of invading our sovereign lands, were precipitated by a legal
opinion drafted by a part-time attorney working for the NIGC," Bearskin
said.

The memo said the land was not acquired in settlement of a land claim.

Bearskin said the law the nation used when it opened the casino was one
passed by Congress. Public Law 98-602, passed in 1984 was a land claim
settlement that returned the land in Kansas City to the Wyandotte Nation.

"I was here when this passed and so were many of you," Bearskin said. "That
law was passed by the Congress to settle a decades old land claim for lands
that were taken from my ancestors illegally."

He told the committee that every conceivable effort had been made, by
competing interests, politicians and legal authorities to deprive the
Wyandotte of their legal rights.

"In short, these people have used every means to deprive my people of a
chance, no, of the right, to economic prosperity that congress declared we
had over 20 years ago," Bearskin said.

What Bearskin intended was to have the Resources Committee reaffirm that
the public law that returned the land to the Wyandotte was a land
settlement claim.

"All I ask is that this country, the United States of America, live up to
their word, and stop the harassment of my people through illegal means by
some of the leaders of the state of Kansas," he said.

When the case returns to federal court, the Wyandotte Nation is confident
the outcome will be in their favor. So far all the litigation against
tribes in Kansas, most recently against the Winnebago Tribe and Ho-Chunk
Distribution of Nebraska for distributing motor fuel to reservations in the
state of Kansas ruled in favor of the tribes.

The case with the Wyandotte Nation, however, was first ruled against the
tribe, creating the move to the 10th Circuit which refused to hear the
case.

"We have faith that when this entire long, drawn out legal process is
finally completed, the Wyandotte Nation will prevail, and the spirits of
those who have gone before us will be pleased that justice is finally
done," Bearskin said.

The casino employed some 40 people who live in Kansas City and the closure
means hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. The state
confiscated 153 Class II gaming machines in the raid.

"A great injustice has occurred in Kansas against the Wyandotte Nation,"
Young said.