Timbisha Shoshone Tribe sees casino as a path to self-sufficiency

Young members of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe are seen in Furnace Creek within Death Valley National Park sometime in the 1930s. Photo by Burton Frasher, Sr. Neg. No. 4759, Death Valley National Park Archives

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of California is hoping a casino will improve its way of life.

The tribe gained federal recognition in 1983 but had to wait until 2000 to secure a reservation. The Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act finally established a land base for the tribe in Death Valley National Park.

But the law prohibits gaming within the park. And development options are limited in the surrounding area so the tribe is proposing a casino in Ridgecrest, about 130 miles south of its headquarters in Bishop.

"Currently we have a woman, an elder who is in her 70's and she has lived with out electricity and running water for 40 years," Chairman George Gholson told The Kern Golden Empire of the conditions in and around Death Valley.

A provision in the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place certain lands in trust. But if Lida Ranch in Nevada cannot be purchased by the federal government, the law anticipates "that another parcel mutually agreed upon" by the tribe and the BIA can be acquired.

Gholson said the tribe's ancestors used to live on the parcel in question, which is located near the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. A land-into-trust application will be submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribe presumably will cite a section of the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act that requires the BIA to place certain lands in trust. Although the Ridgecrest site is not outright listed, the law anticipates that "mutually agreed upon" parcels can be acquired in the event a ranch across the border in Nevada cannot be purchased by the federal government.

As long as those additional lands are not within the national park, they can be used for gaming, the law states. They will be treated as an "initial reservation" under the provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

That means the tribe wouldn't have to follow the two-part determination provisions of IGRA. That would require approval from the state governor in addition to the BIA, a process that takes years to complete.

Another provision of the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act dictates that land placed in trust pursuant to the law will be considered an "initial reservation" for purposes of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Still, the tribe doesn't think the casino in Ridgecrest will happen overnight. Gholson said it could take two years for the land to be placed in trust.

"This casino endeavor is going to be very profitable for everybody involved, including the city," Gholson told the Golden Empire.

A proposed municipal services agreement with Ridgecrest requires the city to support the land-into-trust application. The issue was discussed at a town hall on Wednesday evening. Additional information about the project can be found in an agenda and a supplemental agenda.

Get the Story:
Timbisha Shoshone tribe proposes $29 million casino in Ridgecrest (The Kern Gold Empire 4/27)
Casino issue packs Town Hall (The Ridgecrest News Review 4/28)
Town hall casino meeting at 6 p.m. today (The Ridgecrest Daily Independent 4/26)

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