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NIGC reaffirms shutdown of Meskwaki casino
Friday, September 12, 2003

The Meskwaki Tribe's casino in Iowa will remain closed until a federally recognized leadership gains control of the facility, federal gaming regulators said on Thursday.

In a final decision, the National Indian Gaming Commission extended the shutdown of the casino. The three members of the commission said they would consider changing their minds if the tribe proved it was satisfying federal law.

"The goal of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to promote strong tribal governments is best served by requiring that tribes follow the rule of law, in this case, by having federally recognized leadership," NIGC vice-chairman Nelson Westrin said in a statement. "Allowing the unrecognized faction to retain control of an operating casino would create instability and a harmful precedent in Indian country, ultimately undermining the integrity of Indian gaming."

The casino has been closed since May, when an internal dispute boiled over into the courts and the public eye. Just two months prior, a rival faction of the tribe, dissatisfied with the leadership of the federally recognized tribal council headed by Alex Walker Jr., had taken over some tribal facilities and the casino, which generates $3 million a week and employs about 1,100.

The instability prompted NIGC chairman Phil Hogen to issue a notice of violation (NOV) to the tribe on April 30. In it, he said gaming at the casino was "not being conducted by . . . the governmental authority recognized by the Secretary of the Interior."

When the faction headed by Homer Bear Jr. refused to return control to the recognized council, NIGC went to court. A federal judge agreed with Hogen and, on May 23, U.S. Marshals closed the casino.

Since then, there has been little progress on getting it reopened. The rival factions asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for help but the court, in a unanimous decision issued August 27, said it couldn't intervene in internal tribal matters. The court then upheld NIGC's shutdown order, which at the time was temporary.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to recognize Walker and his allies as the legitimate tribal leadership. But BIA officials pressured Walker to schedule a recall that tribal members have been seeking for several months. The election is set for October 21.

Bear and his supporters held an election in late May in which a record number of members voted against Walker's group. But the BIA won't recognize the results of the vote because officials say it wasn't held in accordance with tribal law.

The casino's closure has put a hit on the Tama County economy, an unemployment numbers are up. It has also affected the BIA school on the reservation, whose administrator is working with Walker in order to ensure BIA funding. Some parents were keeping students home as a result, according to news accounts.

The leadership dispute has its roots in the management of the casino and what critics contend is Walker's unlawful interference. Walker twice tried to fire the tribe's gaming commission, which is charged with regulating the casino. The commission was seeking to investigate some of Walker's actions, which included a $37,500 bonus payment to the casino's manager.

Recent Court Decision:
IN RE: SAC & FOX TRIBE OF THE MISSISSIPPI IN IOWA, No. 03-2329/2355 (8th Cir. August 27, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Meskwaki Tribe Litigation, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals - http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/casino.html

Related Stories:
Appeals court sides with NIGC on casino shutdown (08/28)
Iowa county says it will evict Meskwaki rivals (08/18)
DOI judge says Meskwaki casino should reopen (08/13)
BIA calls on Meskwaki Tribe to hold recall election (08/06)
Meskwaki factions ask court to reopen casino (07/25)
Meskwaki factions and NIGC head to court on casino (7/24)
Appeals court holding hearing on Meskwaki casino (07/09)
Meskwaki dispute centers on recall petitions (7/7)
Meskwaki faction agrees to create election board (7/3)
Meskwaki faction votes to oust law firm (6/27)
Meskwaki faction says BIA agreed to election (6/23)
DOI meeting with Meskwaki Tribe canceled (6/20)
DOI to discuss Meskwaki leadership dispute (6/19)
Editorial: Don't interfere in tribal affairs (6/19)
Meskwaki faction wants to fire rival law firm (6/10)
8th Circuit court won't reopen Meswaki casino (05/30)
8th Circuit reviewing Meskwaki casino shutdown (5/28)
BIA won't recognize Meskwaki Tribe election (5/27)
Federal marshals close Meskwaki Tribe's casino (5/23)
Meskwaki voters asked to choose new leaders (5/22)
Meskwaki voters urged to vote for new council (5/21)
NIGC asks court to close Meskwaki Tribe's casino (5/20)
Judge calls for receivership for Meskwaki funds (5/19)
Meskwaki casino stays open during leadership spat (5/15)
NIGC orders Meskwaki Tribe to close casino (5/14)
State threatens Meskwaki compact over dispute (5/9)
Meskwaki factions can't agree on discussions (5/8)
Talks between Meskwaki leaders break down (5/6)
Meskwaki Tribe works to resolve dispute (5/5)
NIGC says Meskwaki Tribe in violation of IGRA (5/1)
Meskwaki leadership dispute continues (4/30)
Editorial: NIGC should interfere in tribal dispute (04/24)
NIGC threatens to close Meskwaki Tribe's casino (4/23)
Meskwaki leadership dispute won't affect payroll (4/18)
Federal judge won't intervene in Meskwaki dispute (4/16)
Meskwaki Tribe undergoing leadership struggle (4/10)
Meskwaki tribal council removed and replaced (03/27)

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