Pombo holds West Coast IGRA hearing

Author:
Updated:
Original:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Although Sacramento is generally the seat of California
government, members of a U.S. congressional committee decided to pay a
visit recently. Three members of the House Committee on Resources set up
camp in the conference room of the state library, across the street from
the state Capitol.

Their purpose? To hold a hearing on a bill by committee chairman Rep.
Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and determine its potential effects in northern
California. The bill seeks to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
(IGRA), especially as it relates to tribes acquiring off-reservation land
for gaming.

"Indian gaming should not be a source of conflict between neighbors and
communities," said Pombo in his opening statement.

Among other things, the bill would seek to allow local governments to nix
gaming deals and set up the possibility of economic enterprise zones that
would allow for gaming districts or concentrated areas.

Pombo warned that his course of action is better than other alternatives
proposed in Congress, which include a moratorium on all gaming negotiations
nationwide.

"Colleagues of mine in the House who do not have much experience dealing
with tribes ... seem to take a great interest in tribal issues only when an
Indian casino is proposed in their district where a tribe does not reside,"
said Pombo, adding: "Off-reservation gaming is not just bad publicity for
tribes, it's sometimes the only publicity."

Several witnesses from both sides of the gaming debate seemed to support -
to varying degrees, at least - some of the ideas behind Pombo's bill,
though concerns of assorted shades as well as some outright opposition were
also stated. Support largely came from tribes that have already established
casinos.

One witness who opposed any modification of IGRA was Colusa Indian
Community Council Chairman Wayne Mitchum. Mitchum said he thought IGRA had
worked well enough and rather than an off-reservation gaming rush, he
pointed out that only three tribes had successfully taken land into trust
for gaming since 1988, the year IGRA was enacted.

One of Mitchum's main concerns was that tinkering with IGRA would lead to
an erosion of tribal sovereignty. He contended it would be better to have
the secretary of the Interior work with Congress to better determine
whether a tribe had ancestral ties to an area for land acquisitions.

However, Mitchum and Leslie Lohse, treasurer of the Paskenta Band of
Nomlaki Indians, acknowledged that there is a problem with "reservation
shopping." Reservation shopping is generally understood to be attempts by
tribes or gaming developers to make deals with states for the purpose of
opening gaming establishments on land not part of the tribe's historic land
base.

Lohse also said that Paskenta is opposed to a move by the Greenville
Rancheria to move its tribal lands near Paskenta approximately 100 miles
from Greenville at the behest of a New York developer. Lohse called this a
"disturbing and exploitive" example of reservation shopping.

Lohse also denied recently criticism of Paskenta by claiming that her tribe
was not afraid of competition, and the specter of competition was not what
motivated them to oppose the Greenville move.

Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California, had concerns with
creating economic development zones, a provision she said did not
necessarily have the support of the local communities.

"An economic zone is an incentive to identifying an area that is not
currently Indian country, which invites the abuse of land speculators and
gaming developers who will drive decisions about the locations of these
zones rather than the cool minds of policy makers."

One of the more contentious examples of a tribe trying to establish an
off-reservation casino is the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. That tribe has
signed an compact that would allow it to operate a casino in San Pablo near
Oakland some 45 miles from its ancestral home base.

Lytton Chairman Margie Mejia took umbrage at charges that her tribe had
gone reservation shopping. She maintained that her tribe had no choice in
the matter since it was only reestablished in the early 1990s, and part of
that agreement did not allow her tribe to set up gaming in its native
Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.

Mejia testified that her tribe had made an honest attempt to find something
closer to their home, but could only come up with the San Pablo site. She
recounted the hardships that the tribe had endured in losing its land base
and said that in rectifying the situation a mere apology, without chance of
economic opportunity, would not suffice.

"The state saying they're sorry with a paper is not good enough," said
Mejia.

Mejia pointed out that the project has local support. In fact, the mayor of
San Pablo has gone on the record many times stating his support for the
project.