Echo Hawk pulls controversial off-reservation gaming memo

Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has rescinded a controversial Bush administration memo that effectively killed off-reservation gaming.

Echo Hawk told tribal leaders this morning at the National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference of his decision. He said the memo, which was issued in January 2008, was "unnecessary."

“Our balanced and considered approach to reviewing off-reservation gaming applications was affirmed during deliberate consultation with tribal leaders,” Echo Hawk said, according to a BIA press release. “The 2008 guidance memorandum was unnecessary and was issued without the benefit of tribal consultation. We will proceed to process off-reservation gaming applications in a transparent manner, consistent with existing law.”

The memo was written by Echo Hawk's predecessor, Carl Artman. It placed a greater scrutiny on tribes that seek land away from existing reservations.

The Bush administration never stated an official distance limit in the memo but Artman, in testimony to Congress, suggested that 40 miles was the furthest a tribe could go from the reservation.

The memo was issued on January 3, 2008, without prior public notice or tribal consultation. The next day, it was used to reject more than a dozen off-reservation casinos, including some which hadn't even gone through the review process at the BIA.

“I find that the [Interior] Department’s regulations governing off-reservation gaming acquisitions adequately provide standards for evaluating such acquisitions and, consequently, that the 2008 Guidance Memorandum’s interpretation of our fee-to-trust regulations is unnecessary," Echo Hawk said in his June 13 decision to rescind the memo.

Off-Reservation Gaming Policy:
Guidance on taking off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes (January 3, 2008)