Mary Jane Griego

Another View: Tribe deserves Yuba County land for a casino

Published: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

Observers of California tribes and tribal gambling know that:

• Native peoples traditionally used extensive territories and did not adhere to strict borders. Instead they often shared and occupied overlapping lands with other native people in complex social, cultural and economic structures.

• Many California Indians were forcibly removed from traditional homelands. Those that survived were then provided remote, tiny parcels of land insufficient to support their tribal populations.

• California tribes with no land or unusable land can – in rare circumstances, after rigorous review, and as a matter of law and social justice – petition to take land into trust for gambling and other tribal uses that promote strong tribal economic development, self-sufficiency and governance.

In the past 25 years since Congress enacted a law regulating Indian gambling, only a small number of tribes have successfully navigated the expensive, lengthy and, ultimately, unpredictable process for acquiring new land for gambling.

The voters of California repeatedly affirmed the rights of tribes to pursue gambling to assist American Indians to rise above their historically disadvantaged position. The intent was to promote further tribal options and opportunities, not to limit them.

Lastly, many Northern California counties – from Placer to Yolo, Butte and Colusa – vigorously support and celebrate their tribal gambling facilities as valuable community citizens and economic drivers. Indian casinos have meant countless jobs and economic improvement for their communities.

In this light, recent criticism of two tribal gambling projects seeking final state approvals, including the Enterprise Rancheria resort project in Yuba County, are especially disturbing. ("Obama, Brown allow tribes to engage in reservation shopping"; editorials, April 18)

The Enterprise project is a worthy gambling project and deserves to be judged on the facts and individual merits.

It has already been approved at the state and federal level – only the sixth such tribe to qualify land for gambling under the rigorous process in the past 25 years.

The project will be a huge generator of jobs, private investments, vendor business and public funding in an area of historically high unemployment and poverty.

The project is supported by diverse groups of local political, business and civic leaders and organizations. The project will be built on "tribal trust lands" historically connected to the tribe.

Many U.S. Interior secretaries, governors and local jurisdictions have concluded that the Enterprise project will be good for the tribe, local community, the state of California, and other non-gambling tribes that will receive financial dividends from this project.

Opponents are branding Enterprise as "reservation shopping." Nothing could be further from the truth. Enterprise lacks a "functional reservation" feasible for gambling or a viable alternative for reversing generations of poverty and deprivation.

Acquiring new land can level the playing field for "functionally landless" tribes like Enterprise and earn them a deserved place at the table along side other wealthy gambling tribes. But it is a costly and politically fraught process; often a last resort for the tribes desperate to provide for their people and rebuild their tribal resources.

Unwarranted attacks on these projects don't just distort the facts – they assault and undermine Indian gambling, tribal sovereignty and, ultimately, American Indians. They perpetuate the historical mistreatment that voter-approved tribal gambling sought to redress. They have everything to do with fear from competitive interests and little else.

It is time to give a break to Enterprise and other dispossessed, disenfranchised tribes struggling to get back on their feet.

As a county supervisor and as an anthropologist, we have worked closely with Enterprise and other tribal leaders from Northern California over many years. Their diligent, constructive and transparent partnership with local, state and federal representatives deserves respect, admiration and support.

Mary Jane Griego is a Yuba County supervisor and represents the district where the resort project will be built. Dorothea Theodoratus is professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology and Native American studies at California State University, Sacramento.

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