St. Regis Mohawk Tribe responds to BIA rejection

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York today said Indian Country is getting "screwed" by the Bush administration on off-reservation gaming.

Tribal chiefs slammed the Bureau of Indian Affairs for rejecting their land-into-trust application for an off-reservation casino. The $600 million project is supported by the local community and Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D).

But Jim Cason, the assistant deputy secretary at the Interior Department, said the project would not be in the best interests of the tribe. in a letter today, he said the proposed benefits would not help tribal members who live on the reservation, more than 300 miles from the casino site.

"While the financial benefits of the proposed gaming facility might create revenues for the tribe and may mitigate some potential negative impacts, the tribe's application fails to carefully address and comprehensively analyze the potential negative impacts on reservation life and does not clearly demonstrate why these negative impacts should be out weighed by the financial benefits of tribal ownership of a remote gaming facility," Cason wrote in the four-page letter [PDF: Letter].

In response, tribal leaders called the decision paternalistic. “The language contained within the decision strikes me as a brazen paternalistic assault against not only the Mohawks but all of Indian Country. The clear message is that Indians belong on reservations and should be content to receive handouts and commodity cheese from the federal government," said Chief Lorraine White.

“Incredibly, the Interior’s own statements, guidance and past findings in the administrative record do not support this decision,” added Chief White. “The bottom line is Indian Country is getting screwed on a totally fictitious basis.”

The tribe has been waiting for an answer on the application for more than seven years.