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Stand Up For California opposes Madera County tribal casino

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COARSEGOLD, Calif. - A group called Stand Up For California opposes a 160,000-square-foot casino proposed by the Picayune Band of Chuckchansi Indians in the Madera county foothills. The group claims the proposed development is illegal because the site is not part of the reservation.

Stand Up For California sent a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission asking for reconsideration of the legal land status that would allow gaming.

At the heart of the dispute seems to be status of the land on which the proposed casino would sit. The opposition says the land in question belongs to a disenrolled tribal member and the tribe is trying to use the trust status of that land.

It further claims the land was acquired using money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and thus not eligible for gaming enterprises. The group also says the land in question is in fee simple status, meaning there are no restrictions on it that would designate the area as tribal land.

John Peebles, attorney for the Picayune, says that this is not true. He says bond were sold to raise money to acquire the land. He says that Stand Up For California makes a mistake when it claims the land is in fee simple status. He states flatly it is not.

The Picayune Band of Chuckchansi was among those re-recognized under the Tillie-Hardwick class action suit that spelled out the terms of recognition for several California tribes in the 1980s.

Stand Up For California says the sovereign area for the tribe is on two, noncontiguous parcels of 28.7 acres and another that is 80 acres. It claims the casino will be built on land contiguous to the smaller plot.

Peebles says the proposed development is indeed within the 80-acre parcel. This is in the stipulation for judgment portion of the Tillie-Hardwick Act, he said, and was signed off on by attorneys for both Picayune and the United States government and approved by the federal district court.

"The language in Tillie-Hardwick is basically a restatement of a presidential proclamation made in 1912 by United States President William Howard Taft," says Peebles who also says the office of the solicitor determined the entire area is within Indian land.

Cheryl Schmit, co-director of Stand Up For California, says that determination was made as a personal favor by the associate solicitor for Indian affairs, Darrell Jordan, to a Monteau, Peebles' law partner.

Peebles said he thinks this is "ridiculous," adding there is "no way" this is true and that Schmit has no evidence to back it up. He said he thinks that the solicitor made the right decision. Peebles further said he does not understand what legal grounds Stand Up for California has in the matter.

"All Darrell Jordan said was to reaffirm the case law put down from Tillie-Hardwick,' says Creig Marcus, tribal director of operations.

He added that Madera County has been helpful to the tribe and a few misconceptions needed to be cleared up. He said the casino will provide extra services for the county such as public safety and fire protection.

Schmit says her group does not oppose Indian sovereignty or Indian gaming. She describes the group as a non-profit, grass-roots organization that opposes expansion of gaming interests in California.

It supported the Pala compact signed with Gov. Gray Davis that spelled out rules for gaming in California. A self-described "patriot," Schmit says she opposes any kind of "race preference" in the United States.

Stand Up for California's Internet site shows the group opposed California's propositions that legalized American Indian gaming in California. Schmit notes her group supported Proposition 29, viewed by many as a watered-down version of 1A that received, at best, a lukewarm reception from most American Indian gaming advocates.

Cascade Entertainment, a Tiburon-based company has been hired by the tribe to build and manage the casino for a five- to seven-year period. Pat Minche, chief operating officer for Cascade, says his company received phone calls that "have been running about 70 to 80 percent in favor of the project."