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Az tribes, lawmakers spar over proposed Glendale casino

Bill would prevent Tohono O'odham from building the project

WASHINGTON — Supporters and opponents of a proposed casino in Glendale accused each other of subverting the system Tuesday as they clashed on a bill that would prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from building the project.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, told a House Indian and Alaska Native Affairs subcommittee that his bill is the only way to protect a compact among Arizona’s tribes to limit casino development in metro Phoenix. He said his bill would prevent extensive “reservation shopping” by tribes creating reservation land within cities.

“If the compact totally dissolves, chaos will result,” Franks testified. “There will be reservation shopping all over the state.”

But Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said the bill “sets a dangerous precedent for all tribes” because it changes a tribal-federal agreement without the tribe’s consent.

It would be “another black mark in the United States’ history of broken promises with Native Americans,” he said.

Franks’ bill would ban most types of gambling in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties on “replacement lands” acquired by the Tohono O’odham Nation after a federal dam flooded thousands of acres of the tribe’s lands. That 1986 agreement between the tribe and the federal government was known as the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act.

Franks said the act should be amended to comply with a compact signed by all 17 Arizona tribes about 10 years ago that limits the number of casinos in metro Phoenix to seven – the current figure.

In 2003, the Tohono O’odham bought 135 acres of replacement land in Glendale as part of the Gila Bend settlement. It asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to put 54 acres of that land into trust and allow gaming there.

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The U.S. District Court in May upheld the Department of the Interior’s right to put the land into trust, and in June the court blocked a state law that would have let Glendale annex the tribal land without the tribe’s approval.

Noting those successes, detractors say that Franks’ bill – the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Clarification Act – is merely an end-around tactic to subvert current law and court rulings that favor the casino.

“This bill represents an attempt to circumvent ongoing litigation,” said Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett, who noted that he was testifying on his own behalf and not on behalf of the city government.

Barrett called the bill a job-killer. The Tohono O’odham government says the casino would create 9,000 jobs and generate $300 million in economic activity annually.

An Interior Department official said the casino does not violate the compact because there is an exception for gaming on land acquired through a congressional mandate – such as the Tohono O’odham’s Glendale tract.

“Any one of them (tribes) can do this,” said Paula Hart, director of the Office of Indian Gaming, in reference to the exception.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said at the hearing that Congress had the chance to prohibit gaming on newly acquired lands when it created the original legislation in 1986, adding that the compact does “explicitly list” the exception that allows the Tohono O’odham casino.

No matter whether there is a technical exception, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos said the Tohono O’odham did not mention its plans as tribes were discussing the compact limiting their gaming abilities. That erodes trust, she said.

“In tribal cultures, one’s word ought to be enough,” she said.

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1 comment on this story

Oct 5, 2011, 12:47 pm
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I am not understanding all the opposition to the new casino. I really don’t.

Normally I don’t like to talk about color, but I am a strong proponent of Native American Sovereignty on tribal lands. The Native American peoples have been through a lot of suffering…most of it they didn’t deserve. They’ve paid their dues, and have earned the right to do with their own land whatever they see fit. Fighting them on anything, especially something like this, is unnecessary, is unfounded, and really makes us all look bad.

If you don’t like gambling, that’s fine. Don’t gamble. Don’t visit gambling establishments. You make your own choices, and allow me to make my own choices. Stop trying to tell others how to live.

I mean, seriously…if this casino is erected, how would that hurt anyone in the slightest?

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Joshua Armstrong/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, testified Tuesday that a Glendale casino project by Tohono O’odham Nation could destroy a compact signed by all 17 Arizona tribes to limit casinos near Phoenix. He sponsored a bill that would stop gaming on the Tohono O’odham land in the metro area.