Proposed IGRA Amendment Would 'Sanction' Extortion of Tribes


Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma) has introduced an anti-Indian casino bill that gaming experts say would give local governments the power to shake down Indian nations for money.

H.R. 4033, introduced on Feb. 15, would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to give local governments veto power over Indian casinos offering Class III gaming even if the casino has been vetted and approved by the Interior Department and a negotiated tribal-state gaming compact. The bill has no co-sponsors yet.

The bill “is more than anti-Indian, it is anti-state government,” said Joe Valandra, a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota, principal owner and president of VAdvisors, LLC, chairman and CEO of Tehan Woglake, Inc., and former chief of staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission. “It presumes that local governments should have a veto over the considered decision of a governor and/or legislature. Frankly, it is really more of a ‘place at the table’ proposal i.e. about money. Non-Indian governments wanting the sanction to exhort money from Tribes.”

The proposal, called “Giving Local Communities a Voice in Tribal Gaming Act,” says, “No Class III gaming activities may commence, irrespective of an approved Tribal-State Compact, unless the elected governing body and elected executive officials of each county, city, or other general purpose political subdivision in which a class III gaming activity under the Tribal-State Compact is to occur have approved the Class III gaming facility.”

The bill would be a disaster for tribal nations, Gabriel Galanda said. "This bill would destroy tribal economic sovereignty as we know it, by giving municipal government not just a say but veto power over on-reservation economic development.” Galanda is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and partner in the Seattle-based firm Galanda Broadman. "One can imagine the demands a city or town would place upon a tribal government, in exchange for the municipal government's 'approval' of an on-reservation Class III casino development,” Galanda said. “The demands would certainly include money, likely in the form of so-called impact fees in lieu of taxes. This bill would basically allow local governments to extort monies from tribal governments that hope to engage in the only federally sanctioned economic development activity that has ever brought meaningful money to Indian reservations."

The bill would apply only to gaming to compacts entered into after January 1, 2011. Sullivan said the bill is intended to stop the Kialegee Tribal Town’s construction of the Red

Clay Casino, a facility that is under review by Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk. “My goal with this legislation is to ensure that situations like the Kialegee Tribal Town Casino never happen again,” Sullivan said in a press release on his website. “As I have said before, I am deeply concerned this precedent setting situation could lead to the opening of pandora’s (sic) box where Indian land can be leased by private contractors to open up casino’s (sic) anywhere they please – regardless of the churches, schools and homes that may be right across the street. We cannot allow that to happen without ensuring all citizens within a community are given equal consideration under the law,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, the State of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit Feb. 8 to stop the Kialegee Tribe from continuing the construction. The tribe was one of the Creek Confederacy of indigenous communities in what became Alabama and Georgia that were ethnically cleansed from their homelands under Indian killer Andrew Jackson’s removal policy The state claims that operation of a Class III casino on the Broken Arrow site would violate IGRA and a gaming compact between the Kialegee Tribal Town and the state signed last April because the property is not on the Kialegee Tribe’s “Indian lands.”

While Sullivan’s stated intention is to stop the Kialegee Town casino, his proposal would affect all Indian nations everywhere across the country. It would, for example, prevent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe from opening a casino to provide revenues for its government services to its members. Although the Wampanoag people were the first to greet the European settler colonists in the early 1600’s, the nation was not federally acknowledged until 2007 and it is landless nation and has few resources. “Congress has already provided the compact process to enable states to act as needed to protect their citizens' interests,” Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell told ICTMN in an email. “Through the compact process, tribes and states may reach agreement to include local involvement, as appropriate. Congress should not impose an oppressive nationwide solution in response to a single local concern.”

The thought process behind targeting one tribe through an action that would impose collective restrictions on all tribes “is very parochial,” Valandra said, “and likely motivated by a fear that the unregulated unknown big bad Tribe is going to get away with something. Unfortunately, it is the worst (best?) evidence that members of the Congress, in general, do not know or care about the status of Tribal governments, the Nation-to-Nation obligations of the federal government, and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I have said it several times recently and it bears saying here – Indian land and resources are being jealously coveted by non-Indians and they will not stop until they have control over it all.”

And what effect would Sullivan’s proposal have on the nation-to-nation relationship between the federal government and sovereign Indian nations? “I am afraid the concept of Nation-to-Nation goes out the window here,” Valandra said. “The federal government would in effect being giving authority over land decisions (a trust obligation) to local governments with no other obligation/motivation than extortion.”

It would also diminish tribal sovereignty itself, Galanda said. "It is bad enough that IGRA gives states certain powers vis-a-vis Class III gaming. To give counties and cities any authority over Class III gaming would mark the most dramatic erosion in tribal sovereignty since the termination era," he said.

The only silver lining to this proposal, if it were to succeed, is that counties and cities, like the states, would still have no say over the development of Class II gaming facilities. "There is of course already movement by gaming tribes towards Class II gaming as a means of freeing them from onerous state gaming regulation and revenue-raising, if not compacting altogether,” Galanda said. “If this bill passed, I suspect we would not see any new Indian casinos assume Class III operations; in fact, we might never again see a brand new Class III tribal casino."

The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. Luke Miller, press secretary to committee member Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), said the congressman had not yet reviewed the proposed bill. “Chairman Young still needs a chance to review the bill and will withhold judgment until he has an opportunity to do so. Additionally, as Chairman of the Subcommittee to which this bill will likely be referred to, it’s crucial that the Chairman and his staff have an opportunity to discuss the bill with stakeholders,” Miller said.