Opinion: State never ceded jurisdiction over Graton gaming site

The Graton Resort and Casino in California. Photo from Instagram

Mike Healy of Stop the Casino 101 Coalition explains why his group is suing the state of California for signing a Class III gaming compact with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria:
Our core contention is that the federal government’s ownership of fee title to land in trust for a tribe does not divest California of its sovereignty over the property. In other words, state law continues to be in effect there, unless and until the state affirmatively cedes its sovereignty and the federal government formally accepts it.

The Graton casino site was owned by a series of non-Indians for 160 years and fully subject to state laws the whole time. Others bought land nearby with the expectation that the entire area was governed by state law and local zoning. A subsidiary of Station Casinos gifted the site to the United States in 2010.

Established law confirms that a state may not be divested of sovereignty over lands with in its borders without its consent. Further, there are only three methods by which a state’s sovereignty can be transferred, and it is undisputed that none has been achieved for the Graton site. Nor has the United States accepted a transfer of sovereignty.

The state’s brief cites legal decisions involving a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, a Shawnee reservation in Kansas and a Crow reservation in Montana. Those decisions confirm that those tribes exercise sovereignty over their reservations.

And they do, because the acts of Congress admitting those states into the Union “reserved out” those reservations, meaning they were never part of those states in the first place. “Reserving out” is one of the three recognized methods. Unsurprisingly, the Graton casino site was not “reserved out” when California became a state in 1850.

Get the Story:
Mike Healy: Challenging conventional myths about tribal sovereignty (The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat 8/10)

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