Biden admin set to ‘green light’ controversial new casino development

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By Carina

The Biden administration is on the brink of making a pivotal decision regarding the Coquille Indian Tribe’s contentious proposal for a new casino in Oregon.

This development, taking place far from the tribe’s traditional territory, has sparked a heated debate among regional tribes, lawmakers, and stakeholders.

BIA set to release final EIS

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is expected to release a final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposed casino in Medford, Oregon. This follows a draft EIS released in November 2022 and a subsequent public comment period extending to late February.

The proposal, under scrutiny, seeks to establish “The Cedars at Bear Creek,” an off-reservation casino by the Coquille Tribe.

Regional tribes, lawmakers criticize proposal

Several voices, including regional tribes, national tribal organizations, and bipartisan lawmakers, have criticized the draft EIS, which tentatively supports the casino’s development.

The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, representing 13 Californian tribes, emphasized in a letter to BIA Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, “The Coquille Indian Tribe’s application… directly threatens the sovereign rights of tribal governments to operate gaming on their lands.”

Similarly, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, representing numerous tribes, expressed concerns about the potential infringement of their “sovereign rights.”

Plan was initially proposed under the Obama administration

The Coquille’s plan, initially proposed about a decade ago under the Obama administration, has been a subject of intense debate.

Critics fear that the Biden administration’s possible approval of the plan might exacerbate tensions and set a precedent for tribal gaming conflicts. The primary concerns revolve around the potential infringement on nearby tribes’ rights and the possibility of reduced gaming revenue for these tribes.

The Coquille Tribe, which already operates the Mill Casino in North Bend, Oregon, faces strong opposition from various entities, including the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, other tribes, and lawmakers.

Democrat leaders weigh in on proposed casino

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, along with Senator Alex Padilla of California, expressed their apprehensions last year: “It would also have a detrimental impact on tribes in Oregon and California… if Oregon and California’s… balance between producing gambling revenues and… public good… were seriously compromised.”

Governor Tina Kotek of Oregon, along with several representatives from both Oregon and California, have also opposed the new casino.

Furthermore, a coalition of regional tribes, led by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and including the Karuk, Tolowa Dee-Ní, Smith River, and Klamath Tribes, have petitioned the federal government to reject the proposal.

Cow Creek Chair Carla Keene and CEO Michael Rondeau highlighted the significant adverse impacts on their tribe and services if the casino were approved.

Neighbouring tribes would be detrimentally affected by new proposal

Stephen Dow Beckham, a historian specializing in Native American history, criticized the proposal as “blatant, glaring reservation-shopping” during a public hearing. He noted that the Coquille Tribe’s actions could detrimentally affect neighboring tribes.

Recently, Russell Attebery, Jeff Grubbe, and Marshall Pierite, representing various tribes, penned an op-ed urging President Biden to reject the casino, highlighting the broader implications for Indigenous communities.

In its draft EIS, the BIA acknowledged the Coquille Tribe’s financial struggles and the need for additional revenue to sustain and develop critical tribal programs. The agency stated that the new casino would help the tribe maintain “self-determination and self-sufficiency.”

As the BIA prepares to issue its final EIS, followed by another public comment period and a final decision, the debate continues, reflecting the complex interplay of tribal sovereignty, economic development, and regional impacts.

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