Cowlitz Tribe still working on design plans for contested casino

The Cowlitz Tribe finally has a place to call home. A sign was installed along Interstate 5 in Washington on July 20 to mark the reservation. Photo from Facebook

The Cowlitz Tribe of Washington is moving forward with a casino amid litigation in federal court.

The tribe plans to build the Cowlitz Casino and Entertainment Resort on a portion of a 152-acre site that was placed in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March. Chairman Bill Iyall said design work is underway.

"It will be a very good attraction for the whole community here, drawing thousands of people daily but also providing thousands of jobs," Iyall told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

A tribe in neighboring Oregon, however, is contesting the BIA's decision. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar as part of the case.

Artist's rendering of the proposed Cowlitz Casino Resort in Washington
Artist's rendering of the proposed Cowlitz Casino and Entertainment Resort. Image from Cowlitz Indian Tribe Environmental Impact Statement

The Carcieri decision restricts the land-into-trust process to tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934. The Cowlitz didn't gain formal recognition until 2000 but the BIA said the tribe meets that standard.

Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein of the federal court in Washington, D.C., backed the BIA's analysis in a decision last December. But the battle isn't over because the Grand Ronde Tribes and other opponents have taken the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefing is ongoing so a date for oral arguments hasn't been set.

The Grand Ronde Tribes operate the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, Oregon. The facility draws patrons from Portland, about 60 miles away.

The Cowlitz Tribe also will compete for Portland patrons. The reservation is only 30 miles away.

"We're here in our homeland, and so this is where we belong," Iyall told OPB.

Get the Story:
'Location Is Everything' In Tribal Casino Dispute (Oregon Public Broadcasting 7/29)

Federal Register Notice:
Land Acquisitions; Cowlitz Indian Tribe (May 8, 2013)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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